CARROLLTON - In a season, and year, unlike any other, the Hebron and Denton Guyer football teams did their best to prepare for and perform in Week One like the prestigious programs that they are.
Guyer, fresh off a trip to the 2019 6A state championship game, and Hebron, they of the eight playoff appearances in the past 10 years, finally kicked off their 2020 seasons Friday at Hawk Stadium, after University Interscholastic League officials delayed the beginning of the high school football season nearly one month due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
And while both sidelines expected a bit of unpredictability, the end result was a wildly entertaining opening night with plenty of offense, won by Guyer, 56-33.
After two listless offensive drives to start the game, Guyer exploded for 21 unanswered points in less than five minutes of gametime and never looked back.
Receiver Grayson O’Bara and quarterback Eli Stowers, the latter a Texas A&M-commit, hooked up twice for long pass plays as the Hawk defense struggled to contain the Wildcat offensive attack - masterminded by new head coach Rodney Webb, who oversaw one of the best offenses in the state during his tenure at Rockwall.
Stowers finished with 199 yards passing and O’Bara had 118 receiving yards.
Junior Jacob Buniff, starting at signal caller for Hebron in place of injured senior Weston Conaway, drove Hebron to the Guyer 9-yard line in search of a score late in the third quarter, but the Guyer defense forced a turnover on downs. On the first play of Guyer’s next drive, running back Byron Phillips burst through the line and sprinted 91-yards for a touchdown to give the Wildcats a 42-13 lead.
Phillips finished the game with 152 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Starting a backup and playing against a state-title finalist - and with the uncertainty surrounding the high school season in general - Hebron head coach Brian Brazil said he saw some good things from his squad on opening night even after a few key players went down with cramps and injuries.
“A lot of guys that we were counting on came out of the game hurt,” Brazil said. “That can happen when you’re playing a big, physical team like Guyer. They started running some hurry-ups, we got tired, they started running up on us. They’re a really good team. I’m just glad we got a chance to play. Guyer’s going to beat a lot of folks.”
Buniff led the Hawks down the field for a field goal on the team’s first drive. Hebron opened the second quarter with another Brayden Beck field goal, capping off a drive highlighted by a 30-yard pass from Buniff to the back shoulder of wide receiver Cobye Baldwin.
The 6-0 lead would be short-lived.
After Phillips scored on the ground for Guyer midway through the second quarter, Buniff threw a picturesque ball to running back D’Avay Johnson on third down that would have been a walk-in touchdown, but Johnson dropped the pass and Hebron was forced to punt. On the very next drive, Stowers hit O’Hara for a 55-yard touchdown pass that pushed Guyer’s lead to 14-7.
Things went from bad to worse for Hebron following the deep touchdown strike, as Guyer recovered the ensuing kickoff after Michael Mayfield kicked the ball over the Hawk gunners, who were expecting a pooch kick. Two Guyer players fell on the ball at the Hebron 3-yard line.
One play later, Brailynn Pegues crossed the goal line for a 21-6 lead.
Stowers overthrew a receiver with three minutes remaining in the second quarter, leading to an easy Hawk interception. Hebron converted off the turnover when Buniff hit Jaddai Henry with a deep pass in the corner of the endzone, cutting the Guyer lead to 21-13 before halftime.
“We had our opportunities,” Brazil said. “We were down 21-13 and we drove the ball down, and I was thinking about if we should go for two if we scored. Then boom, they hit us and everything changed.”
Team yardage totals skyrocketed by games’ end, as the Wildcats piled up 547 total yards. Even in a losing effort, Hebron still amassed 367 total yards.
Hebron’s Takota Bridges returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter to inject some excitement into the Hawk sideline. The defense also forced and recovered a fumble with seven minutes remaining that led to another touchdown, a 28-yard run by Brandon Love.
“We’ve got a lot of things to work on, but I saw some positives for sure,” Brazil said.