It didn’t matter much that the field was soaked and the fans were sporting ponchos and huddling under umbrellas shortly before kickoff. Running the football wasn’t a quick adaptation to play through soggy conditions for either China Spring or Connally as the two schools have some of the best running backs in Central Texas.
Entering Friday night’s contest, Jay’Veon Sunday was atop the standings with 579 rushing yards through two games. China Spring’s Erik Hart, after setting the school’s single game rushing record in the season opener with 307 yards, wasn’t too far behind him.
As expected, the duo set the tempo early as Sunday and the Cadets topped Hart and the Cougars, 38-16.
Hart finished with 152 rushing yards on the night, while Sunday added 197.
“I don’t even know what his numbers were tonight,” Connally head coach Shane Anderson said. “He’s a special, special kid. We’ve got to keep him healthy and keep feeding it to him. He’s just so physical. He loves running the football and loves playing the game.”
Sunday got things going early as he found success picking up speed around the outside. After he had a 27-yard carry on third down, he picked up 27 yards for the first touchdown of the night.
Less than three minutes later, it was Sunday again. The Cadets capitalized on a short field when China Spring’s snap to punt on fourth down went wild before it was recovered at the Cougar 5-yard line.
The Cadets’ early success on the ground opened things up through the air for quarterback Gaylon Glynn. A few of his incomplete passes were to open targets, he just overthrew them by a step. He didn’t have any trouble missing Korie Black, though, midway through the first quarter.
Connally started on a short field once again after the Cougars fumbled the kickoff. Facing 1st and 10 on the China Spring 35, Glynn hit Black in the end zone to give the Cadets a commanding 21-0 lead.
The Connally team that played sophomores all over the field last year has grown up.
Then it was Sunday again, this time with an eight-yard touchdown to have Connally up by four touchdowns with less than a minute left in the first quarter.
If anyone thought the Cougars were dead in the water at that point, think again. After some struggles with special teams early, Hart brought the spark on a kick return.
The senior running back fielded the kick on the 35-yard line, broke a few tackles and raced away as no one could stop him from taking it 65 yards to the house for China Spring’s first touchdown of the game.
“He’s a really, really good football player,” Anderson said. “He’s a good running back. Very, very physical. Very, very strong. He’s a lot like Sunday. We knew that coming in. I thought we tackled him pretty well for the most part.”
It wasn’t until a little more than two minutes left in the second quarter that either team scored again. Just like Sunday’s play opened up the passing game for Connally, so did Hart’s play with the Cougar pass attack. China Spring quarterback Brayden Faulkner lofted a pass high into the end zone for KJ Peoples, who was covered. But the China Spring receiver won the jump ball to put some more points on the board for the Cougars.
Connally didn’t want to end the half that way though, as just over a minute later, Glynn hit Je’Juan Forward for a 31-yard score.
Defensively, the Cadets forced five turnovers on the night. Kavian Gaither had a pair of interceptions in the fourth quarter for Connally.
“Really, they only gave up two touchdowns because they ran back that kickoff,” Anderson said. “We’ve got to clean up some things on special teams. Defense, very proud. We have to work on limiting the big plays. We gave up too many big plays.”
After such an explosive first half, things slowed down a bit. Neither team scored a touchdown in the final two quarters. Connally kicked a field goal in the third quarter. China Spring kicked one in the final seconds of the game.
“Our kids played well, especially in the first half,” Anderson said. “We talked about executing and about starting fast offensively. The first two games we didn’t start fast offensively. We played real well in the second half. Tonight, it was totally reversed. We came out of the gate clicking on all cylinders. We have to use that as a learning experience.”
Considering they were still at the top of their game, the retirement of Mark Bell and Willie Williams during the off-season was shocking. But they’re confident their successors will continue to build on the success they’ve created.