After a topsy-turvy first half, the Allen football team restored a sense of normalcy to Friday’s marquee showdown with Cedar Hill in the 20th annual Tom Landry Classic.
After watching an early 21-point lead dissipate to just seven by halftime, the Eagles outgained the Longhorns 154-16 in the third quarter and outscored them 20-8 to begin the second half en route to an eventual 41-28 victory at Eagle Stadium.
“You’ve got to give Cedar Hill credit because they came right back at us and we handled that adversity,” said Terry Gambill, Allen head coach. “We had already talked about having adversity, so came in at halftime and made our corrections, went right back out there and got after it.”
The Eagles haven’t lacked for question marks heading into the 2019 season after graduating a wealth of seniors, and although the first two quarters authored their share of peaks and valleys, Allen’s second half conjured the level of consistency that Gambill preaches all too often.
Despite a tipped pass resulting in a Cedar Hill interception deep in Allen territory moments into the third quarter, the Eagles’ defense negated the takeaway with a turnover on downs sparked by back-to-back sacks by seniors Jaden Healy and Malik Allen.
Three plays later, the Eagles were back in the end zone after senior Raylen Sharpe found junior Blaine Green on a 17-yard strike for a 28-13 lead with 8:16 left in the third quarter. Field goals of 19 and 33 yards followed for senior James Griffith to stake Allen to a 34-13 advantage early into the fourth quarter — the same margin the Eagles led by at the end of the first quarter.
“When you’re playing games like this, games that feel like playoff games, you’ve got to make big plays and that was a big, big play,” Gambill said the initial turnover on downs.
Allen couldn’t have scripted a more promising start to its season.
After Cedar Hill whiffed on a 28-yard field goal on its opening drive, the Eagles needed just one play for their first points of the year following a well-timed zone-read keeper by Sharpe that the speedster housed for an 80-yard score.
Sharpe completed 23-of-30 passes for 319 yards, added 103 rushing yards and totaled four touchdowns en route to receiving the Landry Classic’s Offensive MVP honors. Popular targets for the SMU commit included junior Blaine Green (seven catches, 85 yards and a touchdown), senior Darrion Sherfield (six catches, 77 yards) and junior Bryson Green (four caught 72 yards).
“We knew what play that we were going to run and I saw it even before pregame. From there, I just visualized it,” Sharpe said of his early touchdown run. “Once I was out there, I saw green grass and that’s where I go. Finding the end zone is always fun and it’s thanks to the offensive line that I got there.”
The Longhorns proceeded to go three-and-out over their next three possessions and wound up staring at a three-score deficit as a result. Sharpe again found the end zone, this time on a run from 16 yards out, and senior Celdon Manning powered his way through the Cedar Hill defense for a tough, 15-yard touchdown run with 1:04 remaining in the first quarter for a 21-0 advantage.
The Eagles’ defense had its say as well. Despite returning just one starter from last season, Allen forced two turnovers on downs, held the Longhorns to just 3.0 yards per carry and routinely generated pressure on Longhorns quarterback Kaidon Salter. Through the air, senior Zayteak McGhee bagged a second-half interception and was named the Landry Classic’s Defensive MVP.
“We’ve all been together since playing for the freshman team, so nothing has really changed. We’ve all got heart,” McGhee said. “We all know what we can come out and be.”
Their lone kryptonite, however, was the sporadic Cedar Hill big play — something Gambill was plenty mindful heading into Friday’s contest. The Longhorns were consistent in that capacity, recording one gain of at least 37 yards in each of their first three touchdown drives — including two that helped them creep within 21-13 by halftime.
Cedar Hill receiver Cameron Hutchings did the bulk of that damage, hauling in a 37-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter for the Longhorns’ first points of the game and later catching a pass for 57 yards that set up an 8-yard touchdown run by Aron Brown.
“Both teams had some really big-time plays, as far as throwing and catching,” Gambill said. “That’s what you’ve got to eliminate, but I thought from a defensive standpoint, I thought we played very well when we had to and made some really key stops.”
In between, Longhorns defensive back Jalon Peoples stemmed a return fire from the Eagles after wrestling the ball away from Green on a potential touchdown throw into the end zone.
Cedar Hill knocked on the door once again on the ensuing series, but the Eagles preserved their eight-point deficit after senior Matthew Norman broke up a fourth-and-goal toss to Hutchings in the corner of the end zone.
“I’m very proud of where we started tonight and how we executed. There’s a lot to learn and a lot to get better,” Gambill said.
The Eagles look to remain perfect at 7 p.m. Friday when they welcome first-time opponent Dickinson.