By Bill Sorrell
Lincoln Pare. You’ve just won the region championship. What are you going to do now? “I’m going to Florida.”
After rushing for a career high 363 yards and tying a career-best five touchdowns during a 56-28 win over Collierville on Thursday, Pare was headed to Seaside, Fla., for a half beach week.
“I’m going to lie down in the sun all day,” said Pare, who along with his Houston teammates were given five days off before they were scheduled to resume practice Wednesday.
Close to setting the all-time career rushing record at Houston, Pare has taken the lead among Shelby-Metro rushers (1,515 yards on 197 carries) and rushing yards per game (216.4). He is 25th in the nation in rushing.
His 17 rushing touchdowns trail only Shelby-Metro leader Briarcrest’s Jabari Small’s 19. He is fifth in total touchdowns in the Shelby-Metro area.
“It means everything,” said Pare of his personal best. “It means all my hard work in the off-season has paid off and I’m here now. It just fun to win with my team.”
Not only did the victory secure the Mustangs’ second straight Region 7-6A championship, it also gave them a 7-0 record. They host K.I.P.P. at 7 p.m. Friday. Houston is ranked 7th among 6A teams by The Associated Press.
Adding to his historic night, Pare ran from the Wildcat formation for the first time and scored an 80-yard touchdown on the first play of the second half.
“Watch who gets the ball first,” said Houston offensive coordinator Ronnie Thompson before the second half began, indicating there may be tricks three weeks before Halloween.
“Let the best player in the state run. That’s my job. I’m a bad offensive coordinator if I don’t give him the ball,” said Thompson.
Pare scored 32 points, including a two-point conversion and a 75-yard touchdown sprint in the third quarter.
“Lincoln is a great player. Not many high school backs have the speed, strength, explosiveness and vision that he does,” said Houston senior linebacker Carter Gibson.
Offensive lineman Harry Wilkes, who has missed this season because of a right shoulder injury in the first game, said, “He’s so quick. He gets that first cut and no one is going to catch him.”
What clicked for Pare was following coaches instructions, “trusting the process of the line being where I knew they were going to be and it opened up and I hit the hole when I got there. Right after halftime when I had that long one I knew everything was good and we were going to run it up. I’m right out of the gate and ready to go. I think I was ready,” he said.
Houston head coach James Thomas called Pare “something special. There is no doubt about it. Put the ball in his hands and you’ve got a pretty good chance to win. Anytime he touches the ball he’s got a chance to go for 6.”
Pare’s Wildcat touchdown had been a play the Mustangs had been working on for awhile and “figured why not bring it out to clinch the region championship? “ said Thomas.
With a one region game left, against Cordova (3-4, 0-2 in region), the Mustangs (3-0 in region) will have the No. 1 playoff seed Nov. 8 and home field advantage, which will be their 8th home game of the season.
“It’s a goal you have at the beginning of the season. You can’t be happier than doing that.” said Thomas.
Collierville quarterback Mitch Austin said, “We all know that he (Pare) is the backbone of the team. He is the guy we knew coming in that was the only person we needed to stop but he is a good player. I’m going to give it out to him.”
Said Collierville wide receiver Andrew Smith of Pare, “He knows what he is doing. He knows how to run the ball and how to get to the end zone.”
Pare was in on a classic reverse. Leading 42-14 in the third quarter, Pare handed the ball to Houston wide receiver Grayson Hitt who raced 75 yards for a touchdown. It was Hitt’s first career rushing touchdown.
“We know how to run it. Grayson Hitt is a speed demon,” said Pare.
Gibson said, “Grayson is also a major play maker in the passing game.”
The Mustangs had 552 yards total offense while the Dragons (4-4) had 334 and out-rushed them 487-122. Collierville won the passing battle with Austin completing 13 of 27 passes for 196 yards and 2 touchdowns. Houston quarterback Ethan Burns completed 5 of 10 for 65 yards.
“We started out good and it was an offensive game then our defense started to fall apart towards halftime but we tried to come back after halftime and our offense started out good again and our defense fell off again. It was rough,” said Smith. “We kept letting them have touchdowns and that is what killed us.”
The turning point for Collierville was giving up two touchdowns on two plays to start the second half said Collierville head coach Joe Rocconi. Three first-half turnovers led to Houston touchdowns.
The Mustangs scored after Carson Gould intercepted an Austin pass at the Dragons 45 and returned it to the 36. Collierville muffed a punt and Ben Stegall recovered, sparking a 50-yard scoring drive. A pass interception by Cade Young that led to a two-touchdown lead. A pass interception by Jaylin Momon set up the Mustangs’ final touchdown.
“We played well at times on both sides of the ball, penalties and turnovers put us behind the chains and the scoreboard,” said Rocconi.
Pare said the Mustangs defense “played lights out.”
Returning after dislocating his right knee cap in Week 2, Gibson, a senior tight end/linebacker, said “We are a high energy defensive unit that plays with a lot of intensity and relentlessness.”
Thomas said, “We did well on defense. Deion Harris (defensive lineman) is having a phenomenal year. There is no doubt about it.”
Harris, who had 6 tackles including an 8-yard sack, recovered a Houston fumble in the end zone for his first touchdown ever. “Amazing,” he said of his score.
Gibson said, “He is a very underrated player. He is the biggest defensive playmaker on the team and the best nose guard in the city. His constant high energy always get the team going. He’s huge part of the success of the defense.”
Thomas said the Mustangs’ offensive line did well.
“Nathan Havrda and Morgan Scott stood out on offensive line. Those guys are warriors. Right there in the center of it all is David Laramie. Right guard is Jaylin Lee and freshman Luke Needham has stepped up and done a great job.”
The Dragons had their share of playmakers in Austin, wide receiver John Hampton, tight end Ethan Hassler, running back/wide receiver Duple Travillion.
With a team-high 93 yards receiving, Hassler scored an 80-yard touchdown in the third quarter on a reception from Austin.
“Ethan made a great play. They blitzed both outside linebackers so I just jumped over his head and made a great play. The screen was perfect. They rushed hard and we got a touchdown,” said Austin.
Travillion gained a team-high 48 yards rushing, scoring a touchdown, and had 29 yards receiving with a touchdown. Austin ran for a touchdown and finished with 29 yards rushing.
“Mitch is a great athlete and even a better competitor and leader,” said Rocconi.
Smith said, “Ethan had a good touchdown and Mitch of course. He is a great quarterback.”
Hassler, a defensive end, also played well on defense said Rocconi along with Christian Flynn and Davinci Floyd. Cole Shive led Collierville defense with 8 tackles .
A highlight for the Dragons was Austin’s scrambling ability.
“Lately everyone has been calling me Johnny Manziel (former Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M and NFL quarterback). I’m like you know what, I feel like I am getting to that point right now. I’m trying to make plays. People are coming at me. I think I’m quick and fast enough to run the ball or scramble,” he said.
Watching from the other side, Gibson said, “Mitch’s ability to scramble and avoid tackles makes him a very solid quarterback and you could compare his ability to run to Johnny Manziel. We knew the best way to contain Collierville would be to pressure Mitch and force him to make passes he wasn’t comfortable with.”
Austin has sparked the Dragons all season, scoring game-winning touchdowns. They have won two games by one point, defeated White Station in overtime 20-17, toppled Cordova 20-14, and lost a game by 7 and another by 4. They had a two-touchdown loss to No. 1-ranked Division 2-Class AA ECS.
“Every game has been close for sure,” said Austin. “I feel like it is going to pay off in the playoffs when it’s crunch time. It is going to make us better for the playoffs and give us a good run. We are going to need a big play. We have a very tough schedule. We don’t have any cupcakes. We are going to have to stop the run for sure and play good from the first to fourth quarters.”
In the first quarter Goold’s interception set up a 27-yard first down run by Pare to the Dragons 4. He scored from the 1 and Carson Richards kicked his first PAT of what would become a very active night for Richards.
Collierville scored on its possession. Houston’s Darby Smith had two pass break-ups before Austin gained a first down with a 20-yard run to the Houston 33. Austin would later score on 13-yard option play. Caleb Myers tied the game at 7 with 6:54 left in the first quarter.
“The guy went right with the running backs so I just faked and went in for it,” said Austin.
Houston scored 22 seconds after Collierville’s touchdown. A 63-yard run by Pare preceded Burns’ 17-yard touchdown pass to Hitt and it was 13-7. Donovan Mathena blocked Richards’ PAT.
A 63-yard drive by the Dragons followed. Jaden Spencer ran 19 yards. Austin threw a 24-yard pass to Jay Cole but a holding penalty nullified it. From the 8, Travillion ran for a tying touchdown. Myers broke it with his PAT and the Dragons led 14-13 with 3:43 left in the first quarter.
After Burns punted Travillion fielded it then dropped it. Houston was on the 50. Pare’s 16-yard run put the Mustangs on the 39 before Burns ran for a 15-yard gain to the Dragons 23. Pare then scored a 1-yard touchdown. Pare’s 2-point conversion made it 21-14 with 10:48 left in the second.
“When they muffed the punt that gave us the momentum and we took control. We were back and forth the first quarter.,” said Thomas.
The Dragons were driving again. Austin threw a 10-yard pass to John Hampton. With 8:57 left Young intercepted Austin at the Houston 20 and returned it to the 29.
“It felt good. I’ve been waiting on it,” said Young.
An 11-yard run by Pare, a 6-yard pass reception by R.H. Frankland, a 13-yard run by Burns, a 19-yard reception by Hank Pearson highlighted the drive that ended when Harris recovered a fumble by Pare in the end zone for a 27-14 lead. Houston took 4:55 off the clock during the drive. Richards kicked it to 28-14.
Pare’s third touchdown came on a 27-yard run with 26.7 seconds left in the second quarter. Richards made it a 35-14 Mustangs lead at halftime.
The third quarter began with Pare’s fourth touchdown with 11:48 left.
After the score Pare, who has 4.5 speed in the 40, called it “Amazing.” He credited strength coach Raheem Shabazz with getting him in the best shape of his life and said, “He is the key to our winning.” Houston was up 42-14.
The Dragons then went on an 80-yard scoring drive with Austin throwing passes to Hassler for 13 yards, Smith for14, Spencer for 9 yards and Travillion for a 19-yard gain to the Mustangs 24. Travillion scored from the 1 and it was 42-21 with 4:36 left in the third. Myers was perfect on the PAT.
The dramatics weren’t over for Houstson as Hitt took the reverse from Pare for the 75 yard touchdown 36 seconds after Collierville scored. It was 49-21 after Richards’ extra point.
Hassler’s 80-yard touchdown followed with 3:54 left in the third. Myers cut Houston’s lead to 49-28.
Momon intercepted Austin on Mustangs 32 and returned it to the 35. Burns then connected with Frankland for a 13-yard first down. Pare ran 23 yards, then 7 and finally 22 yards for a touchdown with 10:51 left in the game. The extra point by Richards added to lead, 56-28.
“I stayed focused and fired on all cylinders and stuck with coach’s game plan, doing all the little things right and of course my linemen,” said Pare after his fifth touchdown. He left the game at 5:54.
Wilkes called him “the hardest worker on the team.”
Stegall went into the backfield. Runs by Momon and Stegall got to the Collierville 2-yard line before the threat ended on fourth down.
Collierville quarterback Houston Wihelm threw a 16-yard pass to Javere Washington two plays before the game ended.
“It means we are dominant in this area and we are region champs,” said Hitt. “”It’s good looking forward for us. Lincoln was very impressive and led us to victory.”
In the huddle Thomas told his team they played three quarters of great football but “we got behind the chains and lost our focus a little bit. That is the way football goes. It’s ebbs and flows but if we clean that up we will be really hard to beat. There is not much to improve on a 28-point win. As a coach you are never going to be satisfied. Tackling is always a point. Playing to the whistle, keeping your hands inside on blocking, keeping away from holding calls. There is always stuff you can look back on. We just keep on grinding and keep trying to be successful on Thursday nights and Friday nights.”
He also told his team they had earned the days off.
“We haven’t gone full pads since the beginning of August. I’m definitely a player friendly coach. During the week I try to give them rest and make sure they are healthy. You never want to lose anybody during practice and I’ve got a pretty veteran group that understands what it takes to get a good practice in when you are not in full pads still perform well,” said Thomas.
The Dragons were trying to stack the box bringing eight or nine players to contain Pare.
“I’m padding it right now,” Pare said of his rushing totals.
Gibson said, “Across the board everyone can step up and make the plays we need. Everyone understands their role and doesn’t try to do too much. That is what has made us successful this year, playing for each other instead of every man out for themselves—unselfishness.
“Hank Pearson has been a great player for us. He not only starts at fullback and tight end but he stepped up when I was injured and is a great player on the D-line.”
Confidence from Thomas has sparked Richards a junior kicking for the first time on varsity.
“His confidence is really key. It helps me not worry about anything else. Form and ball contact is everything. Follow-through is what helps get extra distance,” said Richards.
The Dragons, who are 1-1 in the region and close out with Arlington and Bartlett, will use the loss as motivation said Smith.
“We can take it all out on the next game and work from there. Our offense did pretty good. We put up the most points against Houston this year.”
If the Dragons win out they will have the second seed and host a playoff against Region 8-6A’s third place team.
Collierville had 8 penalties for 81 yards, Houston 7 for 70.
Offensively, Houston got 36 yards rushing from Burns. Smith caught a pass for 10 yards.
Defensively Ian Bullock had 6 tackles, a team high along with Harris, Stegall 5, Young 4, Will Stegall and Goold 3 each, 2 each from Gibson, Harry Hagan, Christian Crew, Charles Alexnader, Smith, Labomi Osikoya, Josh Mathis. Smith had 3 pass break-ups while Tahj Shabazz, Young, Osikoya 1 each.
For Collierville, Spencer rushed for 26 yards, LaDrin Brown 13. Receiving Cole had 24, Washington 16, Hampton 19, Smith 14.
On defense, Eli Eubanks and Flynn each had 5 tackles. Floyd and Jared Dawson 4 each. Hassler, Iroh Emmanuel, Mathena, Mario Sanders, Kenfarius Willis made 3 each and Alston Elam 2.
Winning a second straight region title “means a lot and beating our rival makes it even better. We’ve worked really hard for the success we’ve been blessed with this year. We are a tough team which keeps our composure well,” said Gibson.
Smith said the Dragons “should have come out better and matched up against their defense.” He called the rivalry game a tough loss.
Austin had been looking forward to the matchup with Houston all year.
“Everyone has been talking about them. We have been the underdog basically all year. It is what it is. We’ve got bigger stuff to accomplish now, win out and then the playoffs. We’ll see what we can do there.”
Both Thomas and Rocconi played for their alma maters.
There is no difference in playing against Houston or coaching against them said Rocconi.
“A rivalry is a rivalry,” he added.
Thomas said, “No doubt coaching is more rewarding. This is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life. Building relationships with these guys and seeing them succeed, there is nothing like it.”