The McKinney Lions may have been sunk by the visiting Wylie Pirates in Thursday’s District 10-4A opener but second-year head coach Jeff Smith isn’t ready to abandon ship just yet. Smith’s team slipped to 0-4 on the year and following the 41-22 loss he gathered his players on the field and reminded them that there are still plenty of games left to play.
“We want to win every game – that’s the goal,” he said. “Yes, we’re disappointed we didn’t win that game but we’re going to learn from it we’re going to go back to work and go to Rockwall-Heath and give them our best.”
Last fall, the Lions played host to Heath and won a tight 34-31 district contest. The Hawks went on to finish the district season with a 2-5 record, just ahead of first-year program and last-place team Wylie East. This year, Rockwall-Heath is undefeated after three games and thought to be one of the best teams in 10-4A.
The Wylie Pirates and their rowdy fans weren’t the only visitors at Ron Poe Stadium Thursday night. Camera crews and media from both ESPN and Fox Sports set up shop around the field and in the press box to cover the Lions and Pirates’ district showdown. Two weeks ago, McKinney High played a televised game versus McKinney Boyd and sophomore TV Williams made the most of the opportunity with a highlight-worthy 66-yard touchdown reception. The television cameras were in place once again Thursday night and Williams managed to make the highlight reel again as he and junior quarterback Robert Somborn hooked up on a 54-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. Through four games, the Lions’ young receiver has six receptions for 143 yards and two touchdowns.
“TV can stretch the field vertically with his speed,” Smith said. “He made a nice catch and Robert made a nice throw. Hopefully we’ll see that connection more down the road.”
One connection MHS fans are buzzing about this season is Somborn (20-of-37, 269 yards, 3 TD, 1INT) to senior receiver Quentin Casner. The duo has already racked up over 500 yards through the air this season and against Wylie, they picked up where they left off before the bye week. Casner finished the night with five receptions for 68 yards and one touchdown. Junior receivers Connor Fuentes and Jonathan Shannon also hauled in five catches.
Since becoming a football coach, Smith said he’s never been around a team that throws the ball as much as the Lions do and while he’s pleased with his offense’s passing and receiving talent, he’s been waiting for the running game to emerge since week one. Smith issued a challenge to his backfield to take pressure off of Somborn and the receivers and after its performance versus the Wylie defense it looks like the Lions’ running game is on the rise.
“It was better,” he said. “The last couple of weeks it was pretty quiet. We’re going to build on that. We want to continue to be a balanced football team and take pressure off the passing game.”
Despite all the pre-game hype, the first quarter for both McKinney High and Wylie was about as uneventful as they come. Both teams struggled coming out of the gate and neither sideline was happy with the excessive number of penalties their offenses racked up. Overall, the Lions and Pirates were flagged a combined 29 times for 252 yards for the night.
MHS’ first play of the game was a handoff to Marquez Husband that the junior running back was able to turn into a nearly 80-yard carry. Unfortunately, a yellow flag hit the turf and the Lions were called for holding. The penalty not only erased Husband’s big play but it also set the tone for a night full of false starts and holding calls against the Lions.
“You’ve got to learn to overcome those things as a team and push through it,” Smith said. “We’ve got to cut the penalties out.”
Pirates’ running back Victor Jones put Wylie on the board early in the second quarter on a 28-yard scamper into the end zone. Wylie followed up its first touchdown with a gutsy onside kick that paid off and led to another Jones touchdown run four minutes later. With all momentum on their side and a 13-point lead, the Pirates lined up for a routine extra point. In its two previous games, McKinney High blocked either an extra point or a field goal. Versus Wylie, the Lions extended their blocked kicks streak to three games after blocking Seth Hiddink’s extra point attempt. The blocked kick was recovered on the four-yard line by junior cornerback JJ Johnson, who raced down the sideline for a 96-yard return to narrow the score to 13-2.
“We stress [blocking kicks],” Smith said. “That could be the difference in a game. No matter what happens we’re going to try to block them and try to make a difference in the kicking game.”
The Lions capitalized on momentum with a defensive stop that turned into a touchdown catch for Williams, which trimmed the Wylie lead to five points. Seconds before halftime, the Pirates had the ball in the redzone and quarterback Donald Slay threw a pass to the corner of the end zone that was picked off by Johnson. Somborn took a knee to end the first half and the Lions returned the locker room trailing 13-8.
Once the Royal Pride Band finished its halftime performance, the Lions returned to the field for the start of the third quarter and looked like a team ready for battle. The Pirates, who perhaps underestimated the Lions, came out with a more focused intensity in the second half and quickly put up to scores to go ahead 27-8. McKinney High finally responded with 5:41 left in the third on an 18-yard pass from Somborn to Casner. The Lions attempt to rally for a comeback was dashed almost immediately as the Pirates were able to get on the scoreboard again less than two minutes later. Wylie went on to score another touchdown with 3:22 remaining to put the Lions away for good.
“They do a good job and we give them a lot of credit,” Smith said of the Wylie Pirates. “Our kids kept battling. We had several kids step up and play really hard tonight.”
As soon as the final buzzer sounded at Ron Poe Stadium, the Lions’ attention immediately shifted to next week’s road game at Rockwall-Heath. The Lions will have Friday night off from football but not before they study film on the Hawks.
“We’ve got to worry about the McKinney Lions and continue to get better and work and get ready to beat Rockwall-Heath next week,” Smith said. “Our eyes need to be forward.”
McKinney High (0-4, 0-1) travels to Rockwall’s Wilkerson-Sanders Stadium next Friday to face Rockwall-Heath (3-0, 0-0) at 7:30 p.m.
-Joe Arriola, TownSquareBuzz.com