MURPHY – After getting out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter Friday, the McKinney football team survived a spirited charge from Plano East to escape Kimbrough Stadium with a 28-23, playoff-hope-extending victory.
“(This win is) huge. We’ve been through a lot as a football team this season, and to be able to finish that way (was big),” said Marcus Shavers, McKinney head coach. “We had a lot of adversity. The way we got off in this thing, we looked like we were about to blow them out of the water. A good program, which they are, they’ll fight. … We made too many mistakes, but what I’m most proud about is how we overcame.”
With the win, the Lions keep their heads just above water in the District 9-6A postseason race with a conference mark of 2-3. East, on the other hand, will find itself on the outside looking in with a 1-4 record and just two weeks of league action remaining.
Still, head coach Joey McCullough praised the fight his team showed after the early hole it dug itself.
“I’m proud of our effort, and I’m proud of the way we came back,” he said. “I wasn’t proud of the way we started the game, but I was extremely proud of how we fought back and played from the second quarter on. … We talked today about leaving no regrets and no what-ifs and going out and putting it on the field, and that’s the same thing we’re going to do for the next two weeks.”
The game looked to be well in hand for McKinney, as the aforementioned 21 unanswered points in the first quarter powered the Lions to an oversized early lead. To make matters worse for East, senior quarterback Ryan Foust broke his collarbone in the frame, Junior Harrison Record took over under center, where he promptly threw an interception.
Enter junior Dylan Hayden.
The signal-caller, often the starter for East this season but not so Friday with lingering shoulder concerns, took over and led the Panthers to 14 unanswered points of their own on back-to-back second-quarter scores from senior running back Trey Jones-Scott that the halftime deficit to 21-14.
“(Hayden) is a team player, man. He got in there when Ryan broke his collarbone. … Dylan came in and did a great job leading us,” McCullough said. “Throwing the ball, running the ball, running the offense – he’s going to carry us out.”
McCullough also praised a shorthanded Panther defensive unit, which held McKinney to just over 250 yards despite many of its key pieces being absent.
It was more East to begin the second half, as an opening stop led to a field goal for the Panthers to bring the game to 21-17.
One key play would again change the course of the game.
With McKinney facing another potential sputtering drive, a pass interference call that was hotly contested by the East staff extended the Lions’ march downfield. The program would convert the free first down into an eventual touchdown scamper from senior Isaiah Rojas to push the game to 28-17.
That interference call would be resurrected on the eventual final drive of the game. After Hayden led the Panthers to another score, this time on a long catch-and-throw on fourth down to senior Harrison Record to bring the Panthers within the final five-point margin, East recovered the ensuing kick to give itself a shot at a late, go-ahead drive.
Staring down fourth-and-seven from the McKinney 11, Hayden looked for his man over the middle in the end zone. The pass fell incomplete, while McCullough and the Panthers felt that Hayden’s intended target was interfered with.
“It’s kind of like (the referee) said to us on the sideline on our interference – they said that we stopped him dead in his tracks,” McCullough said. “Well, I know one thing, I’ve seen a lot of people catch that ball back shoulder right there, and when we’re getting held and we get stopped in our tracks, it’s the same thing. If he deterred us or kept us from catching the ball, it should have been a penalty.”
The Lions would run out the clock on the ensuing drive.
East finished the night out-gaining McKinney, 329-256, with 160 of those yards coming on the turf. Hayden threw for 144 yards and his lone score on 7-of-14 passing and rushed for 58 yards, while Jones-Scott rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns.
Junior OJ Reed led the way for McKinney on the ground, running for 114 yards. Rojas and sophomore quarterback Sampson Nazarko each collected a rushing touchdown, and Nazarko finished 10-of-13 for 114 yards and a score to Rojas through the air.
With slim postseason aspirations still intact, Shavers said he knows his program will need to bring a different effort next week against Jesuit.
“That’s our focus right now – how can we improve our football team? Right now, we’re in a little slump, offensively. Defensively, they’re playing better, but we’re still giving up some things and we’re still not tackling well,” he said. “We’ll get back to the drawing board, because we’re resilient. … We’ve got a chance, and that’s all you can ask for.”
For continued coverage of the local sports scene, follow @TaylorRaglin on Twitter.