DALLAS – Any time the Plano Senior football team possessed the ball Friday night, the end zone had to feel a thousand miles away.
Granted, Jesuit had something to do with that, as a combination of timely special-teams execution by the Rangers and a myriad of self-inflicted miscues by the Wildcats in that same phase staked the Wildcats to a gaudy deficit in field position.
Behind one of the district’s premier rushing attacks, Jesuit was all too willing to capitalize in sprinting out to a quick 14-0 lead that afforded the home side enough of a cushion to fend off a game effort late by the Wildcats for a 34-26 win from Postell Stadium.
The victory momentarily dislodged a three-way tie for second place in District 9-6A, whittling that figure down to two with Jesuit and Prosper gridlocked at 4-1 behind first-place Allen, while Plano had a three-game losing streak snapped in dropping to 3-2 and into fourth place.
“We played hard, but give Jesuit a lot of credit. They played hard too. We just have a lot to clean up,” said Jaydon McCullough, Plano head coach. “We’ve got to do better in the kicking game, but we were right where we wanted to be with a chance late but field position really hurt us early.”
That was evident from the onset, with the Wildcats’ average field position on Friday rounding out to just inside its own 16-yard line. Jesuit, on the other hand, began its average drive at around its own 43-yard line.
Across 10 series, Plano never began a drive past its own 30-yard line; by comparison, the Rangers began a drive past their own 30 eight times in 11 series.
“They did a great job pinning us on some punts, but we made some mistakes with our kickoff returns,” McCullough said. “It’s tough when you’re starting with the ball on your 4-yard line. We got pinned inside our 5 a couple times, but they’ve got a great team and we just have to find a way moving forward.”
It didn’t take long for the Rangers to make Plano pay for the wealth of short fields, scoring twice in a three-minute span in the first quarter on touchdown runs by quarterback Rance Holman (1 yard) and E.J. Smith (19 yards) for a 14-0 lead.
On a night muddied by inclement weather, the Rangers’ ground game shined behind 313 yards on more than 7.0 yards per carry. Jake Taylor led that pursuit with 176 rushing yards, while Smith added 132 and three touchdowns – including a 24-yard scoring run midway through the third quarter that triggered a stretch of 12 unanswered points that helped stake Jesuit to a 26-13 lead early in the fourth.
Following Smith’s run, Plano stalled out deep in its own territory and was tackled in the end zone after mishandling the snap on a punt, resulting in a safety. Rangers kicker Parker Brown tacked on a 22-yard field goal moments later for the two-score advantage.
All the while, the Wildcats’ offense went stagnant after a first half buoyed by a number of big plays through the air – including multiple deep connections from junior Oliver Towns to senior Jayden Chambers, who had four catches for 106 yards before suffering what McCullough speculated was a knee injury late in the first half.
“That was tough. We had to move people into different positions and it took a while for them to get familiar with it,” McCullough said.
Plano’s passing game fizzled with a depleted receiving corps until midway through the fourth quarter when junior Tylan Hines came to life with a 71-yard touchdown catch that closed the gap to 26-20 with 6:49 left in the ballgame.
The Rangers upped the lead back to two possession at 34-20 after a run-centric drive ended with a 9-yard touchdown run by Smith, only for Plano to answer back with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Towns to Hines with 1:12 remaining for the eventual 34-26 final after the Wildcats failed to recover an onside kick.
Towns finished the night with 284 passing yards, 63 rushing yards and three total touchdowns – albeit on just 12-of-28 attempts through the air. Hines added 81 receiving yards, while senior Christian Sabatini caught four passes for 87 yards.
Plano looks to bounce back at 7 p.m. Friday from Clark Stadium against McKinney Boyd. A win would clinch a playoff berth for the Wildcats.