ARLINGTON – In a game with 1,176 combined offensive yards and 119 combined points, it was a defensive play that pushed Rockwall past Allen into the third round of the Class 6A Division I football playoffs.
Trailing 60-59 with 11 seconds remaining and no timeouts, Allen senior quarterback Raylen Sharpe rushed to his left on fourth down, hoping to gain the necessary yardage and go out of bounds to give his kicker, James Griffith, a chance to win the game.
Instead, three Yellow Jackets pushed Sharpe out of bounds a yard short, and Rockwall escaped AT&T Stadium with one of the biggest wins in school history.
Rockwall will face either Cypress Ranch or Klein Oak (results not available as of press time) next week in Round 3, while Allen goes home with its shortest season since 2011 now in the books.
Allen, a football powerhouse with state championships in 2008, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017, had made at least the state semifinals seven years in row prior to this year.
“We lost a game today, but that does not define us or anyone who puts on the Allen uniform,” said Terry Gambill, Allen head coach. “I’m just so proud of the way these guys fought all game and continued to play Allen Eagle football.”
Fight they did, even when facing two 14-point deficits at different points in the game – including late in the third quarter, down 52-38 before an improbable 21-point swing that saw the Eagles score three unanswered touchdowns in less than 10 minutes of game time to take a 59-52 lead.
“To come back twice in this game, against that team, after being down 14 points and for the game to come down to only one play, that says a lot about our kids,” Gambill said.
But Rockwall, one of the state’s top offenses, drove the length of the field behind quarterback Braedyn Locke and wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba and scored a touchdown with 1:23 remaining to pull within one. That’s when Rockwall head coach Rodney Webb called a timeout and drew up a play for a potential game-winning two-point conversion.
“I didn’t really want to go to overtime with Allen,” Webb said. “Generally, when I go for two, it’s because I have an offensive play ready that I think will work.”
Which is exactly what happened.
With Smith-Njigba out of the game due to cramps, Webb called for a reverse wide receiver pass from Caden Marshall to J.J. Williams, who fought off two Allen defenders to catch the ball in the end zone and give Rockwall a one-point lead.
It wasn’t pretty: Locke bobbled the initial snap before handing off to Marshall, who ran as far as he could to his left before flinging a wobbly pass towards Williams, who had to fight around an Allen defender to make the catch.
“We didn’t execute it in the best way, but I had told my guys that if it comes down to it, we are going to go for two, and it worked for us,” Webb said.
Sharpe and the Eagles then made it to the Rockwall 40-yard line before the drive ultimately stalled and the game clock hit zeros.
The offensive numbers in this area-round matchup were staggering: Sharpe, in a losing effort, threw for 459 passing yards and five touchdowns, while also rushing for 112 yards and a score. Junior running back Jordan Johnson racked up 160 yards on long catch-and-run touchdowns, of which he had two – plus a rushing score. And senior receiver Darrion Sherfield led Allen with 182 yards and two scores.
But the highlight machine was Smith-Njigba, who finished with 15 catches, 252 yards and five touchdowns, plus a rushing touchdown in the third quarter. Four of his touchdowns came in the first quarter.
With his performance Friday at AT&T Stadium, Smith-Njigba became only the third player in Texas high school football history to surpass 5,000 career receiving yards.
“He’s a generational talent,” Webb said. “I’ll never coach a kid like him again, not in my lifetime.”
Smith-Njigba, an Ohio State commit, was in too much pain to be on the field for the Yellow Jacket’s final touchdown and subsequent two-point conversion attempt, but Locke, who threw for 411 yards, was on the money to tight end Kade Klinkovsky for the score to make it 59-58.