Collierville’s Drew Van de Vuurst nearly beats Houston defensive end Daniel Bantom for a touchdown catch Friday night on the road. The senior would finish his last game as a Dragon with three touchdowns in a 35-28 loss to Houston. Photo by Kevin Lewter
By Bill Sorrell
Special to The Independent
Houston soccer coach David Wolff had a game-time message for Mustang football players that wasn’t put into practice until 11 minutes after kickoff.
“His message was pretty much fighting for time, for the memories to last,” said Houston football coach Will Hudgens. “Have one more Monday. One more time to smell the locker room. One more time to joke around with your buddies, the guys you have been sweating with all year. The greatest thing is we get to come back and get a practice on Monday.”
It was Houston’s coming back from two 14-point deficits to knock off Collierville 35-28 in the first round of the 6A state playoffs last Friday at Houston that provided one more Monday.
Playing a team that they had beaten 49-21 on Oct. 24, the Mustangs “came out with our heads a little too high,” said Houston quarterback Jared Schmidt.
After a fumble and an interception, it took Houston almost the entire first quarter to enter the fight. Schmidt scored on a 1-yard keeper with 1:22 left.
“What surprised us about Collierville was their fight,” said the quarterback. “They had a lot more fight in them tonight than we were thinking they might have.”
Houston defensive back Nick Larkin said, “They (Dragons) came out hot. They didn’t come out and lay down like some people thought they would.”
Collierville’s Drew Van de Vuurst said the outcome of the previous game was not a fair representation of the Dragons.
“We wanted to prove to everybody that didn’t believe in us that we could play with them because they are not 28 points better than us,” the senior wide receiver noted.
Houston (10-1) is moving on to face Arlington (9-2) in the second round at 7 p.m. Friday.
“I love the taste of it. It feels awesome,” said Houston linebacker Zach Childress, who intercepted Collierville freshman quarterback Garrett Booth and ran 40 yards for a touchdown with 10:21 left to play for the game-winner.
“The ball just went right to me. I just got it. I kept on running. I did not look back. It was the greatest feeling in my life. I am not going to lie,” said Childress, a junior, of his first ever game winning interception.
Houston defensive lineman Reid Ostrom said, “When we were breaking it down, before the game, the last series, the whole time, it was “See you Monday.” We are going to be back Monday baby and keep playing one more week.”
Collierville coach Mike O’Neill had been telling his team all week that Houston was going to overlook them.
“They put it to you last time and they (Mustangs) came out flat and I said we have to capitalize on that quick and we were able to do that,” he said.
On the third play of the game, Booth hit Van de Vuurst for a 75-yard touchdown pass play. On the Mustangs’ first possession, they fumbled and Collierville’s Mitchell Jensen recovered at the Houston 38.
However a big defensive play by Houston’s Matt Hershberger stopped the Dragons at the 23 on fourth down.
Then Schmidt was intercepted by Jensen at the Houston 13 and three plays later Booth rifled a 10-yard touchdown pass to Van de Vuurst. Dylan Scott, who switched jerseys before the game with injured quarterback Alex Hicks, kicked his second of four PATS.
The Dragons led 14-0.
“That was part of our game plan to catch them when they were down,” said O’Neill. “They settled down and regrouped. They are a strong football team. I have got to had them credit. It was a battle.”
Hudgens had been concerned about trying to defeat the Dragons (6-5) twice.
“It’s tough to beat a team twice, especially a rival with a bunch of good athletes and a great coaching staff. We fumbled, gave it right back to them. We were not helping our defense with field position with the turnovers. It was sloppy. I don’t know if it was jitters of being in the playoffs. You don’t want your kids to get too big-headed and think all we have to do is show up. ‘We beat them earlier, we can do it again.’ The good thing was nobody started pointing fingers and everybody stayed together as a team which is what we have been doing all year.
“Our kids just fought. Obviously it was ugly at the start. We gave up a 75-yard touchdown to Van de Vuurst who is a heck of a player. I am glad he is a senior.”
With his 4.5 speed in the 40, Van de Vuurst scored all three Collierville touchdowns before sophomore Payton McCay scored in the third quarter on a 5-yard run.
With 115 yards receiving, Van de Vuurst’s third touchdown reception, a 30-yarder in the second quarter, gave the Dragons a 21-14 lead.
“Oh, wow, he can stretch the field at any time,” said O’Neill of Van de Vuurst. “I was asking him to play defense tonight. He hasn’t been playing defense all year but we had to with the injury situation. We had to flip some people around. He is just incredible.
“He is a tremendous athlete,” O’Neill continued. “He needs to play somewhere. I know his size (5-8, 170 pounds) is a little bit against him but he is very talented. These recruiters need to check him out. He has another gear.”
It was the most touchdowns Van de Vuurst has scored in one game this season.
“The fact that it might be the last game, I wanted to leave it all out on the field. I think we had more fire, more intensity,” Van de Vuurst said. “We were more focused. We didn’t want it to end right now.
“I thought we played as hard as we could,” he continued. “We wanted to prove to everybody that didn’t believe in us that they were not 28 points better than us. We had to keep our emotions in check and not let them get the best of us. That is all we could do.”
What set up the Mustangs’ first touchdown was an interception by Kennedy Sanders. He returned it to the Dragons’ 11-yard line and Colby Cartwright, who finished the game with 44 of Houston’s 58 rushing yards, ran to the eight before Schmidt ran for a first down then his score.
Houston tied it on seven-play, 56-yard drive when Cartwright scored on a 5-yard run. Schmidt had thrown a 21-yard pass to Clark Anderson to get to the Dragon 35-yard line. A 20-yard pass play from Schmidt to Cartwright put the Mustangs at the five yard line. Jacob Painter’s PAT made it 14-14.
Hudgens praised the confidence of Painter, a sophomore, who is in his first season as a kicker.
“He is leading the county for a reason,” he noted.
Against the Dragons, Painter kicked five PATs. “Jacob had a little bit of trouble with execution last week on extra points and field goals,” Hudgens said. “But the kid came out tonight and was absolutely kicking the stew out of the ball for us.”
With 4:22 left in the second quarter, Booth completed the Dragons’ two-play, 89-yard drive with his 30-yard touchdown toss to Van de Vuurst. McCay, who finished with a game-high 173 yards rushing on 27 carries, had a 59-yard run a play earlier.
“McKay did a tremendous job,” said O’Neill.
“We came out and made plays,” said McCay. “I just wanted to give back to them and do as much as I could for my team and do my job.
“All these seniors, they he have got so much great leadership,” he continued. “All the adversity we had been through, we still made the first round of the playoffs. We lost but that is football. There has got to be a winner, there has got to be a loser.”
The Dragons lost senior quarterback Hicks to a torn lateral collateral ligament in game three against Germantown. He was punting. He had thrown for 2,500 yards last season.
“We had to regroup and went for a couple of weeks trying to run our old stuff and then we had to switch offense completely three weeks ago. It was like spring practice,” said O’Neill. “We are young at quarterback but the future is very bright at quarterback. We struggled a little bit. We are moving in the right direction with our offense. I couldn’t be any more proud of these kids.”
Booth completed 6-of-15 passes for 146 yards.
With Schmidt, a senior, the Mustangs are “always going to make plays for us,” said Hudgens. Schmidt, who passed for 191 yards while completing 17-of-23 passes, hit Emmett Whitaker with a 37-yard touchdown pass with 33 seconds left in the first half to tie 21-21.
“Offensively, Emmett made his big plays when his number was called,” said Hudgens.
Said Childress, “Emmett made some really clutch catches during the game, definitely made the momentum switch.”
A third quarter interception of Schmidt’s pass by Austin Hall led to the Dragons’ fourth touchdown. Hall returned it from his 35-yard line to the Houston 33. McCay scored on 5-yard touchdown with 5:27 left.
Trailing 28-21, Schmidt’s passes to Whitaker notched three first downs during a game-tying drive. Schmidt then found Clark Anderson for a 13-yard touchdown and a 28-28 tie.
Childress then stepped in front of Booth’s slant-route pass to Van de Vuurst for the final touchdown.
“In the second half we made a few adjustments and I feel like that really helped us slow that offense down,” said Larkin. “They were really clicking.”
It was all about the defense said Schmidt. “This is one night where I can sit there and look to our “D” and say it’s all them. Our offense put up some points but our defense came through when it mattered the biggest. Justin Jones and Ashton Newsome (both linemen) came hard off the ball. Our defensive backs, linebackers’ Childress’ pick-six, how crazy is that? That pick-six is what set the tone.
“Drew Dowdy did a really good job tonight. Our two inside dudes and Reid Ostrom played a good game too. They wanted to clog up our middle. They put their two biggest boys, but our guards Benny (Carroll) and Matthew (Taylor) had to take up the challenge and they did. We could move the ball running which opened up our passing. So it was very successful.”
Ostrom said that defensive linemen Daniel Bantom, Sanders, Larkin along with Dowdy played well. “When Childress got that pick and ran it to the house, that was a game-changer. It was all over from there. Props to Collierville. We started off slow. They had a great game.
Larkin said, “When our defense made those adjustments and our offense stopped turning the ball over and gave us a chance, I thought that turned it around.”
O’Neill said, “Obviously that pick-six was kind of a dagger. We gave them a short field in the first half and then gave up the pick-six. That is 14 points on the board. You can’t give an offense like that 14 points. Our goal was to hold them to the mid-20-range or 21 points. We felt like we had a chance. Sometimes you live by the pass. Sometimes you die by the pass. It happens.”
Free safety Austin Hall did “ a good job,” said O’Neill.
“He had some really good defense. He played well on the perimeter. Our guys up front, defensive linemen Korderic Taylor, Nate Farrington, Carson White, those guys showed up to play and I was proud of them. We wanted our guys to play gap control and they did. Unfortunately we gave up some in the passing game.”
Collierville’s defense did limit Houston to 58 yards rushing on 26 carries. The Dragons gained 166 net yards on 36 carries. Tyler Garvey led the Dragons in tackles with seven while Hall had six, Cameron Doyle five. For Houston, Childress and R.J. Myers led with seven each.
Larkin had two key tackles. “I didn’t start off great tackling but my teammates helped picked me up. I had some good, key tackles there at the end,” he said.
Said Hudgens, “Although Van de Vuurst had some big plays, I thought our secondary kept fighting. Never once did I see their heads get down. Kennedy Sanders and Daniel Bantom did a great job on a a great player and then Nick Larkin over the top was a lot of help. Zach Childress, you can’t say enough about the guy, he played his butt off.”
In his second season as head coach, Hudgens is in the playoffs for the second straight year. The Mustangs lost to White Station in the first round last year.
He hasn’t looked a lot at Arlington. He knows the Tigers have a spread offense and play up-tempo.
“They have a freshman quarterback that is a heck of a player. They have got some good running backs. Defensively, they have got big, stout linebackers.
“When I took over the job, there was a great foundation here, great resources. I was very fortunate to be put in the position that I was. They have always had great (Houston) teams and always will. We tell the kids it’s not about who is coaching, it’s about the 11 guys on the field and the 80 guys in the locker room, sticking together and fighting as one.”
O’Neill also sees a bright future at Collierville.
“We have a new attitude at Collierville. We think we can battle. We think we can win. There is a great opportunity with this new school system,” he said. “I am excited about our sixth grade program. They were undefeated. Our seventh grade team won the league. Our ninth grade team went undefeated. We are moving forward. We are going to build on it.
“I told our seniors,” he continued, “that you guys built a foundation that we are going to make you proud very soon.”
For Van de Vuurst, who was described by one spectator as “the fastest kid in Memphis,” ran away with memories.
“The thing I took away from my senior year is to play every play like it’s your last because you never know when it could be over,” he said. “Also just to be a leader to the younger guys on the team. Some of my best memories were wining the eighth grade championship and the team storming the field in the middle of a play with 20 seconds left and when we beat Ridgeway junior year. I am happy I played with these seniors.”
Said Schmidt, “This is the kind of game where you are sitting on the bench praying, hoping and wishing that everything will go your way and if doesn’t, you praise Him (God) when you win and you praise Him when you lose.
“You take a game one by one and you don’t take anything for granted,” he continued. “Your last game will come before you know it. I think the biggest thing for us guys is not to look too far ahead and just pay attention to what is next.”