Six games into his team’s season, even Prestonwood head football coach Chris Cunningham has been a bit taken aback by his Lions’ progress against a long, daunting non-district schedule.
Leading off the year against a Class 6A program in Wylie, followed by a who’s who of private school powers, a youthful Prestonwood bunch emerged from that rubble with a 5-1 record following Friday’s 37-17 victory over visiting Fort Worth All Saints.
“I don’t know that there was anybody thinking that we’d be 5-1 at this point. I put that schedule together for that senior class last year thinking I needed to push them,” Cunningham said. “It’s great to see these guys do it, but now it’s time to start over.”
In doing so, they’ll part with a performance that Cunningham called one of his team’s most well-rounded of the season. That included a familiar script in the second half where Prestonwood out-gunned All Saints, 17-3, after a back-and-forth first two quarters that featured three lead changes.
The Lions never trailed in the second half, relying on a power run game led by junior Randell Holmes and a defense that wised up to an All Saints offense operating without starting quarterback Hamp Fay.
The Saints mustered a 25-yard field goal by Andrew Lin on their first series of the third quarter before Prestonwood scored 17 unanswered points to close out the contest. Holmes was at the heart of that effort, logging 21 carries for 90 yards and two touchdowns in the win. Fifteen of those rushes came over the final two quarters, including scores of 5 and 4 yards to help the Lions pull away.
“[Holmes] is our horse. We could also see that our offensive line really started getting more movement and Randell just rolls,” Cunningham said. “We felt like they couldn’t stop us in the second half so we just kept pounding it.”
That formula meshed with a defense that logged three takeaways in the second half, including a highlight-reel, one-handed interception by senior Graham Hill. Junior Michael Graham added a pick of his own later in the half to set up Holmes’ final touchdown.
“That’s the kind of athlete [Hill] is. That exhibited it, but he does things like that in practice all the time,” Cunningham said.
Struggles through the air could be anticipated from All Saints given Fay’s absence, with Prestonwood limiting backup signal-caller Matthew Epperson and Co. to just 110 passing yards on 15-of-30 attempts. With Fay, who missed action for a second straight game due to injury, sidelined, the onus fell on lead running back Jacob Matlock, who kept the Saints afloat for much of the first half and finished the night with 158 rushing yards on 28 carries.
“We knew [Fay] didn’t play last week against Dunne and knew there was a possibility of it being one or the other,” Cunningham said. “We went into it with pretty much the same game plan, because the bottom line is [Matlock] was going to have to be stopped. That was a big deal for us.”
Matlock popped the Lions for a 44-yard touchdown in the second quarter to wrest control back to the Saints, 14-13, with 7:48 left in the half.
That score halted a run of 14 unanswered points for the Lions built on the strength of two lengthy touchdowns by senior Jacob Switzer. Prestonwood’s first-year quarterback got the offense rolling on its second drive after faking a run and slinging a screen pass outside to fellow senior Dayton Toney, who took it 57 yards to the house for the Lions’ first points. Switzer then capped Prestonwood’s following drive with a 62-yard touchdown run on a read-option keeper for a 13-7 lead with 1:55 left in the first quarter.
Following Matlock’s big touchdown run, the Lions countered with a shovel pass from Switzer to sophomore Nate Stafford, with the speedy wideout beating the defense to the edge for a 10-yard score and a 20-14 lead that carried into halftime.
“It was an all-around great game in every phase,” Cunningham said. “I told the kids that we were playing against what we feel might have been the best team we had seen this year and that brought out the best in us.”
Switzer finished his night going 13-of-18 for 141 yards and two touchdowns, plus 84 rushing yards and a touchdown, while Toney led all pass-catchers with three receptions for 71 yards and a score.
The Lions look to parlay their midseason momentum into the start of district play, which begins at 7 p.m. Friday with a road tilt against a John Paul II squad also sporting a 5-1 record.
“We’ve got a big one coming up against John Paul and they’re playing some good football,” Cunningham said. “But our kids are gaining more confidence with what they can be. This was a good win for them.”