Bend, but don’t break.
The Salado Eagles defense did just that as it held an explosive Waco Connally offense to two touchdowns and a field goal as Salado took a 20-15 win from Mac People Stadium to sit at the top of District 8-4A Div. 2 along with the China Spring Cougars with 2-0 records.
The Eagles defense stepped up early and late in the game. Peyton Miller broke up a pass in the end zone from Waco standout Kavian Gaither on a third down and goal from the Eagle 16 on Connally’s first possession, forcing the Cadets to settle on a 33 yard field goal at the 6:06 mark in the first quarter. The Cadets had been set up on a first and goal from the Salado 9 yard line, but a hold and a false start pushed them back to the Salado 24 yard line. Gaither carried twice before trying to hit his receiver in the end zone.
Trailing 20-9 at the end of the third, Connally drove from their own 34 to the Salado 1 yard line, thanks to runs of 37 yards by Germone Powell and 14 by Gaither. On third and goal at the 1, Gaither followed his center, but was stuffed at the line by the Eagles defense. The Eagles defense stiffened on fourth and goal at the 1 to force Connally to turn the ball over on downs.
The Eagles could not get very far before Wrook Brown booted a 40-yard punt with no return. Connally took over near midfield with 6:25 left on the clock. Gaither, after being thwarted up the middle by Peyton Miller on a third and 2 took the ball to the outside on a fourth down for 21 yards to give the Cadets a fresh set of downs at the Eagle 20. Gaither scored on a 17 yard run on second down with 3:11 left in the game. Gaither tried to run in the conversion, but Miller again met him at the line to stop him and keep the game a touchdown away.
Salado took the kick and Noah Mescher and Wrook Brown pounded out enough yards to give Hutton Haire the chance to kneel out the final two plays for the win.
The Eagles took the lead in the game with 1:22 left in the first half. After Connally’s opening drive, the Eagles held the ball for almost nine minutes before turning the ball over on downs at the Cadet 33 yard line. The defense forced Connally to a three-and-out series, taking over at their own 25 yard line with 6:43 left in the half.
Over the next five minutes, Salado pounded the ball relentlessly down the field. Noah Mescher scored on a 4 yard run behind Bryce Dobbins’ block up the middle. The drive was highlighted by a 26 yard run by Mescher to cross into Cadet territory. Wrook Brown kicked the point after with 1:22 left in the first half to give Salado a 7-3 halftime lead.
Salado took the ensuing kick off and drove 65 yards in 10 plays. On first and 10, Noah Mescher spun his way through Connally defenders for a 12 yard touchdown run with 7:01 left in the third. Brown again kicked the point after for a 14-3 lead over the Cadets.
Connally’s LaMarcus McDonald returned the kick 40 yards to give the Cadets the ball at Salado’s 37. Ten plays later, Gaither scored from the 3 yard line. He was stopped short on the two-point try though and the Cadets trailed 14-9 with 2:48 left in the third.
Mescher returned a pooch kick 20 yards to midfield. Four plays later, Wrook Brown blasted through the middle of the Connally defense for a 36 yard touchdown. The point-after try was blocked and recovered by a Connally player who was then tackled in the end zone. The Eagles led 20-9 at 1:19 left in the third.
Connally drove to the Salado 1 yard line where the Eagles made their stand with 9:16 left to play.
This stand, the broken up pass in the end zone and the two two-point efforts that were stopped gave Salado the edge it needed to beat a talented Connally team on their home turf.