GATESVILLE — For a half, things couldn’t have gone much better for Gatesville on Friday night.
The Hornets kept the ball nearly the entire time and held a 37-11 advantage in plays run over La Vega. They also managed to finish a pair of long scoring drives to go into halftime tied.
But La Vega recovered the second-half onside kick, scored five plays later and the rout was on. Elisha Cummings ran for 241 yards and a 90-yard touchdown on only 12 carries, and La Vega finished off a perfect District 5-4A Division I run with a 49-14 victory at McKamie Stadium.
“In the first half we struggled a little stopping them,” La Vega coach Don Hyde said. “We were playing without three different starters on the defensive line, then we lost one of our starting linebackers in the first series. The offense did a good job all night, but they didn’t have the ball much in the first half.”
It was eerily reminiscent of the two teams’ last meeting in Gatesville two years ago. The Pirates trailed the Hornets in that one at halftime, 14-13, before blanking them in the second half for a 42-14 victory.
The Pirates (8-2, 4-0) will open the playoffs against the No. 4 seed out of 6-4A Division I. Gatesville was eliminated by virtue of China Spring’s 47-34 victory over Brownwood.
Taequan Tyler caught three passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns, including a 67-yarder one play after the Pirates stopped Gatesville on a fourth down. That gave La Vega its first lead of the game midway through the second quarter, but Kyle Stifflemire stretched across the goal line to tie the score with 28 seconds to go before halftime.
“They were lining up to take Walton out of the game, so we just gave it to Elisha,” Hyde said. “We’ve got so many dynamic weapons. We had two that didn’t make the trip that are good weapons for us. Then if they stack the box, we’ll throw it out there to (Tyler) and let him go to work. You can’t take away everything.”
The Gatesville offensive line leaned on the smaller La Vega front in the first half. The Hornets (3-7, 1-3) weren’t picking up big chunks on many plays, but they continued to keep the chains moving with a variety of formations and personnel groupings—including four different quarterbacks.
Tyler Lewis moved all over the offense for Gatesville, catching six passes for 100 yards, and he started the scoring with a 2-yard run from behind center on the Hornets’ opening possession.
La Vega answered with an 18-yard run from Jar’Que Walton and took the lead on a 67-yard touchdown pass from Ara Rauls to Tyler.
Tyler took a swing pass down the left sideline for a 25-yard touchdown that put the Pirates in front early in the third, and Rauls made it a two-score La Vega lead later in the third with an 8-yard score on a quarterback keeper.
Gatesville was still in the game into the fourth quarter and had a fourth-and-5 from the La Vega 10. Jordan McKinney knocked away a pass into the end zone, and Cummings took advantage on the next play with his 90-yard TD jaunt that all but put it away at 35-14.
The Pirates took advantage of interceptions from Tyron Minnitt and Keyon Reese to get into the end zone for their final two scores. The first was a 13-yard pass from Jacob Bryant to a wide-open Josh Hamilton, who had lost his coverage on a pump-and-go, before freshman Jesse Majors-Sterling capped the scoring with a 17-yard run with 6:32 to go.
La Vega made an adjustment defensively in the second, putting Jaelyn Maladdie in at defensive tackle to give it more beef up front. That move paid off immediately, as Maladdie threw Gatesville runners for losses on its first two plays of the second half, and that set the defensive tone.
“(Maladdie) was a huge difference,” Hyde said. “He clogs the middle. He’s big strong, fast and he does what he’s coached to do. We’ve gotten in trouble in the first half of the last few games by guys trying to do too much. We’re going to get back to basics this week. I can promise you that.”