Wildcats dominate Midlothian Heritage in second half to secure Area Round championship
The Paris Wildcats football team faced the No. 6-ranked Midlothian Heritage Jaguars for the second time in 2020. This time, however, Paris held the home-field advantage. The first time these teams faced off, the Wildcats rode the bus back to Northeast Texas from the Metroplex with a 28-14 victory.
In this matchup, Paris used a dominant performance in the second half Friday night to secure another top-10 win over the Jaguars. Paris took down Midlothian Heritage in Wildcat Stadium by a final score of 38-28 to secure the Area Round title.
An Area Round game with an exciting start
Coming out of the gates strong to start the third quarter was crucial for Paris in this contest. Paris led 14-6 with 8:15 left in the first quarter after senior running back Zy’kius Jackson scored on a short rushing touchdown. Midlothian Heritage responded in a big way to the score with a touchdown drive of its own along with blocking a Paris field goal try with 1:30 left before halftime.
The Jaguars marched down the field quickly to take a slim lead, but junior quarterback Luke Hohenberger found senior wideout K.D. Washington for a 26-yard catch-and-run touchdown with 39.6 seconds remaining in the second quarter to tie the score at 21-all. However, the sixth-ranked Jaguars found paydirt once more at the horn to take a 28-21 halftime lead.
A brand new ball game
Fortunately for the home fans, a different Paris Wildcats team emerged from the locker room. Paris knew what it had to do and was able to make plays while causing disruption in the final two quarters.
“We wanted to hit them in their mouth like we were taught to,” Wildcats senior defender LaDanian Council said. “In the second half, we came out with a strategy to hit them in the mouth and make them feel us. We wanted them to see that Wildcat on the side of our helmets and just apply pressure on them. And, with all that pressure, we got diamonds.”
Paris ate plenty of clock in the third quarter on its opening drive. The scoring drive was capped off by Jackson’s 14-yard touchdown run at the 4:55 mark in the third quarter. Joe Ramirez’s successful PAT tied the score at 28-28, but Paris’ momentum did not exit stage left. After stuffing the Jaguar offense and forcing a punt, the Wildcat offense took the field once more.
Junior running back Gi’taeus Young carried the rock for a first down, but Midlothian Heritage forced a fumble. However, sophomore center Patrick Roland alertly dove on the ball for the recovery, which still resulted in first-down yardage at the Jaguars 23 with under 1:45 left in the quarter. With that, Paris kept marching and junior running back Johquan Caldwell scored at the horn from 9 yards out to give the Wildcats a 35-28 lead after another Ramirez PAT split the uprights.
Working towards a strong finish
Paris’ offense was a well-oiled machine, and the plethora of offensive weapons plus the combination of physical play on the line and continuous attention to detail helped the Wildcats keep Midlothian Heritage’s defense on its heels.
“You’ve got to give credit to the guys out here like G-Young (Gi’taeus Young) who has done well all year. He went insane in this game,” Paris junior quarterback Luke Hohenberger said. “Then, you have someone like Johquan Caldwell who came in for Zeke (Zy’kius Jackson) when he was hurt. When you have backups like Johquan who backs up some like Zy’kius — I mean he’s one of the best running backs in the state of Texas. You also just have to give credit to that line. They blocked their tails off all night. We’re very versatile all over the field, and we feel like we’ve done a good job making adjustments to our offense since the Argyle game.”
The Wildcat defense set the tone in the fourth quarter. Midlothian Heritage opened up the final quarter of regulation with the ball in the possession of its offense. The Jaguars drove the ball deep into Paris territory and faced a critical 3rd-and-8 play from the Paris 13 with under 7:30 left. Even though the Jaguars moved the ball well on that drive in its entirety, Midlothian Heritage could not finish it. Thanks to a strong defensive stand, Paris stole all the momentum back.
The game-changing moment
Jaguars senior quarterback Daelin Rader tried to find his wideout Luke Ledbetter streaking from right to left in the back of the end zone. Rader tried to loft the pass to his 6-foot receiver, but senior linebacker Lain Atwood applied heavy pressure to Rader on the throw. From there, Wildcats senior defensive back Rashad Wilson deflected the pass attempt, and junior safety Dakarian Robinson alertly snatched the deflected pass out of the air for a critical interception.
“I appreciate our coaches for putting us in the right position with the right play call — it was a win-win,” Robinson said. “Their quarterback was running around, I saw him point to his wide receiver, and thanks to my teammate Rashad Wilson, he tipped the ball and made it easy for me to make a play on the ball. That totally changed the game for us. Round Three, baby.”
Double dose of dagger plays
After the momentous defensive stop, Paris drove the ball down the field to ice the game with a 23-yard Ramirez field goal with 1:22 left in regulation. Paris held a 38-28 lead, and Council delivered the dagger as he picked off a desperation heave from Rader with 1:07 remaining at the Wildcats 21 yard line. Following Council’s interception, Paris was able to run the clock out and celebrate their fourth Area Round Championship in the last seven seasons.
Hohenberger completed 4 of his 7 pass attempts for 49 yards and 1 touchdown while carrying the ball 5 times for 75 yards. Washington finished with 63 rushing yards on 9 totes and caught 3 passes for 35 yards and 1 touchdown. Young carried the ball 13 times for 112 yards and 1 touchdown, while Jackson carried the rock 21 times for 155 yards and two scores. Junior running backs Lyric Tredwell and Caldwell chipped in with 32 and 20 rushing yards, respectively. Paris rushed for 457 yards as a team and gained a total of 506 offensive yards.
Council led the defense with an electric performance of 7 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 sacks, and 1 interception. Atwood registered 12 tackles and 1 TFL, while senior edge rusher Jalen Gray had 5 tackles and numerous quarterback pressures. Trent Tennon added 6 takedowns and 1 TFL, while Keshawn Wallace added 4 tackles and 1 TFL. Senior defensive backs Bubba Gray and Washington combined for 9 tackles in the win. Wildcats freshman Trevin Hohenberger totaled 2 tackles, while Satchel Swain and Jaydon Hay each tallied 3 takedowns.
Up next for Paris is another familiar foe in the state-ranked Melissa Cardinals. The teams had their district game canceled due to COVID-19 exposure on the Wildcats’ roster. However, the team is eager to finally get a crack at the Cardinals for the rights to compete in the Regional Finals against the Waco La Vega-Argyle winner on the other side of the Region II bracket in Class 4A.
“I mean, Melissa is one of the games we lost because of COVID,” Hohenberger said. “Melissa was the team we couldn’t wait to get after since last year. With us being a brotherhood, it allows us to unite and come together even after tough times. There have been other teams who wouldn’t come back from this type of adversity but, since we are hanging out every day like best friends and brothers, it allows us to bounce back. We are just going to take things as they come each day and get ready for Melissa.”
With the win, the Wildcats advanced to the Regional Semifinals, where they will face district foe Melissa at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Texas A&M-Commerce’s Memorial Stadium. For more sports coverage, click here.