By Bill Sorrell
Houston sophomore Brock Vice leaps for the catch in the end zone.
Photo by Craig Juneau
The fat lady sang but not before Gabriel blew his horn twice.
With a fall-like crispness in the air after Houston defeated Arlington 43-29 in both school’s first Region 7-6A game, Houston head football coach James Thomas said, “I told everyone that winning is a lot better than losing. The air smells better. The weather helps us and the fat guys get spry. When this cooler weather comes out they start bouncing around a little more. Coach (Ronald) Penn (Houston defensive line coach) is about as big as I am. I saw him running around. Plus the humidity goes away, the fat guys start to lighten up.”
Arlington’s Gabriel Torres lit up the scoreboard. Torres, a sophomore with 4.43 speed in the 40, electrified the crowd returning two kickoffs for touchdowns racing down the right side of the field on runs of 82 yards in the second quarter and 74 yards in the fourth.
“I got it and I went. I’m excited but we still got to close it out,” he said after his first varsity kickoff return for a touchdown.
Arlington head football coach Adam Sykes said, “We’ve never had a sophomore return two kickoffs for touchdowns in the same game. Gabriel’s speed can be a weapon on special teams and offense. He has elite speed. Both of his kickoff returns gave our team a big momentum boost. Big plays on special teams can be the difference in a game sometimes.”
Torres’ torrid pace prompted Houston quarterback Gray Nischwitz to say, “I am not surprised. From the sideline I could tell that kid was fast. Big game, hats off to him.”
Said Thomas of Torres, who finished with three returns for 175 yards, “He was an animal. He was running hard. We couldn’t catch him for sure.”
Houston running back Jaylin Momon called Torres “a great player.”
Teammates of Torres, who is listed at 5-4, 140 pounds, could have put him on their shoulders. Arlington senior linebacker Hunter Moeschle said, “When Gabriel returned the first kick return for a touchdown I thought it is the type of ball players we need on our team to win games. When he scored the second I knew our team was building some momentum and I could see our team hitting a roll. We really hit a stride after that.”
Arlington senior quarterback Zach Baker said, “Seeing Gabriel return those kickoffs was a huge thing for us. He’s a young kid and having that boost to keep us in the game was huge.”
Tigers senior offensive/defensive lineman Alex Maddox agreed, “Seeing Gabriel run the ball for those two touchdowns was exciting and it was one of the main things that kept us in the game. Gabriel’s touchdowns were huge turning points that helped us keep pushing.”
Houston is pushing for the 40-point club. After opening the season with two losses, the Mustangs won their second straight and scored more than 40 points in doing so. They demolished ECS 48-10 Sept. 11.
Darby Smith, Houston senior wide receiver/defensive back, said, “Last week we won by 38 points. We had to prove that we could keep putting up those numbers like we did last year in the 40-point club. We want to be in the 40-point club all the time.” During a 13-1 season in 2019 Houston had eight games of scoring more than 40 points.
What helped the Mustangs reach 43 against Arlington were a recovered fumble by Ian Bullock that set up a touchdown, a pass interception by Will Grant that set up a touchdown, a career-high 67-yard touchdown run by junior running back Momon, two touchdowns passes from Nischwitz, touchdown runs by Ben Stegall, Josh Mathis, another by Momon, a TD pass reception and 2-point conversion from Brock Vice, a touchdown pass reception to Pierre Seals, eight tackles from Christian Crew including three for loss and one sack, a pass interception from R.H. Frankland.
Momon rushed for a game-high 192 yards on 16 carries. Nischwitz passed for a game-high 207 yards on 11 of 19 completions.
“Jaylin had a break-out, stand-out game. When Ben Stegall went down (he rolled his right ankle) he filled his shoes perfectly. I couldn’t have been more proud of him,” said Nischwitz.
Said Thomas, “I thought the second half effort by Jaylin Momon was unbelievable. Jaylin really popped a couple and popped a big one, 67 yard run, that broke the game open for us. Josh Mathis ran the ball hard.”
Houston offensive/defensive lineman Harrison Wilkes said, “Jaylin Momon had a great game.”
With a 4.68 40 time, Momon thought his 67-yard fourth quarter touchdown was a turning point.
“We got it going with that touchdown and kept going and going,” said Momon who wanted to “step up with Ben going down. We have a three-head running backs. I was doing my job and getting on defense (Momon plays safety) and making plays. I wanted to execute my plays for the defense and offense. We work very hard to execute in practice. You practice perfect. Then you go out and execute those plays in a game and come out with a score.”
As Momon was barreling toward the end zone he was thinking “one thing, to score. To get our team some points.”
Smith said, “Jaylin was probably our biggest stand out. He was coming off an injury. He played really well. He was making some really good cuts. He was keeping his feet moving. Nobody could bring him down.”
After the Mustangs had taken a 36-29 lead on Momon’s long touchdown run with 7:06 left in the game, Bullock pounced on a fumble at the Arlington 36 with 8:57 left. A 17-yard run by Mathis set up Momon who scored from the 3-yard line and with Freddy Dean’s PAT Houston was on top 43-29 with with 3:42 left.
“Jaylin Momon impressed me the most, especially how he ran the ball,” said Grant.
Bullock’s fumble recovery was a game changer.
“No doubt,” said Thomas. “You are up only one score then Ian jumped on the ball and we went down and went up by 14. Being up two scores is a lot more comfortable than being up one.”
Nischwitz said, “That was a huge momentum changer. That was the biggest momentum changer for the end of the game and the result for sure. We were up a score, that was huge for us.”
Said Wilkes, “We had a lot of picks. That fumble was a big turning point. We got the ball and we knew it was over when Ian recovered it.”
Grant said, “The turnovers were brutal for both teams but we found ways to capitalize off them and continue our success.”
For the Tigers (3-2) to be successful on offense moving forward they are going to have to take better care of the ball said Sykes.
“We turned the ball over way too many times and that was the difference in the game. You can’t have turnovers against good teams and expect to come out on top very often. The opponents won’t get any easier from here on out. Turning the ball over multiple times a game is a recipe for disaster.”
Baker, who completed 15 of 29 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns, blamed himself for “the turnovers I had in the second half. I believe without those mental mistakes the score would have been a little different. But it happens. We are going to start back fresh on Monday and get all of the mistakes fixed.”
Arlington hosts Memphis University School (0-2)) at 7 p.m. Friday. Houston plays at Bartlett in another region game on Oct. 2.
Baker continued to be a threat during the game with his passing and running.
“I definitely made some big plays with my feet. I also made some dumb ones. I credit the O line, especially in the second half, for giving me quite a bit of time,” said Baker, who rushed for 53 yards on 14 carries.
Thomas called Baker “a heck of a quarterback. He is running around all night making plays with his feet, making plays with his arm. Our guys were taking bad angles on him. He is elusive. Once we started taking better angles and getting two guys to him we started making plays on him.”
Also a defensive back, Seals said, “In the first half our defensive ends were taking bad routes. In the second half we came out and got on him, made him get rid of the ball quick. He (Baker) was really good.”
Said Grant, “Arlington’s quarterback impressed me the most because of how fast and elusive he was.”
From one quarterback to another, Nischwitz said, “Zach Baker is a tremendous quarterback. I am very impressed by his play.”
Smith compared Baker to Briarcrest quarterback Michael Dallas.
“It was hard to bring him down. Their receivers were really good in the scramble attack running all over the field getting open.”
Baker’s ability to scramble is important for the Arlington offense said Moeschle. “It allows for the improvisation of a play to move the ball down the field if the original play didn’t work.”
Momon said, “He is a scrambler and he makes play. You have to read the quarterback’s eyes. More than likely he goes one way then twists back another way. Then he throws it 50 yards down the field. You have to stay on your Ps and Qs.”
Baker’s touchdown pass to Dylan Keith covered 31 yards in the third quarter put the Tigers on top 15-14. Baker threw a 25 yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver J.J. Johnson in the third quarter that pulled the Tigers within 22-21.
“J.J. Johnson has been very consistent for our team on both sides of the ball (Johnson also plays defensive back) all year,” said Sykes. “He is coming off a torn ligament in his foot from last season that made him miss the last half of the season and also most of our off-season workouts before COVID hit last spring. He is another guy that plays both sides of the ball and he came up big on offense Friday night with a huge TD. Coaching guys like J.J. make my job very enjoyable because you know he is going to give you everything he has each night.”
The Tigers also got stellar efforts from junior running back John Davis, who rushed for a team-high 65 yards on 13 carries.
“Josh Davis is an excellent running ball in all phases. He runs hard, blocks well and limits his mistakes. He is definitely not afraid to stick his nose anywhere,” said Baker.
Neither is Maddox, who had four tackles and two in a row in the third quarter, one on Mathis and on Nischwitz that forced the Mustangs into fourth down at their 42.
“Playing against Houston was a good game and probably one of my best defensive games. Our defense played how we do every week and that is not letting up and pushing through the whole game. We stepped it up when we held them after they had gone all the way down the field and we stopped them on fourth down then turned the ball around,” said Maddox.
Said Sykes, “Alex Maddox probably had one of his best nights on the defensive side of the ball. He plays both ways for us and very rarely comes out of the game. He brings valuable energy to our team.”
Moeschle said, “I think Alex Maddox stood out on defense. He worked hard to get through Houston’s O line.”
Another stand out was Davis.
“Josh Davis played well again. He is getting better week by week and we will need him to play well to help us be successful offensively,” said Sykes.
Niscwhitz was pleased with the play of Grant, a sophomore.
“I am so proud of him. Being a sophomore, being young making a big varsity play at the beginning of the game. I love to see guys like that make big plays. Our defense played out of their minds. I don’t think they could have been more prepared for Arlington’s offense. It really showed.”
Grant said, “The game was a battle. We just kept pushing through all the way to the end to come out with a win. The turnovers were brutal for both teams but we found ways to capitalize off them and continue our success.
“I think our defense over the course of the game was solid and overall was executed greatly. Coming out of halftime we made some adjustments and executed every play after that,” he added.
In the first quarter Grant intercepted Baker’s pass at the Arlington 27.
Nischwitz’s pass to Stegall got to the 14 before Nischwitz threw a touchdown to Vice with 5:02 left in the first quarter. Dean made it 7-0.
“Once I caught the ball I was ready to score, obviously that was cut short but it’s great to know that I helped set my team up for a TD,” said Grant.
In the second quarter, Arlington’s Jakob Deshields kicked a 23-yard field goal and it was 7-3 with 8:24 left.
After Stegall returned the Tigers’ kickoff to Houston’s 40, the Mustangs went on a 60-yard drive that zenithed with Stegall running 10 yards for a touchdown. Dean made it 14-3 with 6:12 left.
Torres’ blazing kickoff return touchdown followed and it was 14-9.
In the third quarter, Keith then had a top defensive stop for Arlington, sacking Nischwitz on the Arlington 45. Later Bullock recovered a fumble at the Tigers 35. Brady Weatherly sacked Baker after Arlington linebacker Cannon Linebaugh had intercepted a Nischwitz pass. The Tigers took the lead with 4:39 left in the third quarter on Baker’s pass to Keith. The PAT failed and it was 15-14.
Nischwitz’s 60-yard pass to Seals, who had three catches for a game-high 73 yards, put the Mustangs on top 20-15 and then 22-15 when Nischwitz threw a 2-point conversion to Vice.
Arlington sophomore Blake Dexter fell on Houston’s onside kick before Davis ran for a first down at the Houston 48. Davis this ran for a first down. Baker’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Johnson made it 22-21. Deshields missed the extra point.
A 23-yard run by Momon to the Tigers 26 helped set up Houston’s fourth touchdown of the game. A pass from Nischwitz to Seals got to the Arlington 9 before Mathis scored on a 9-yard touchdown. Dean kicked it to 29-21. There was 10:45 left in the game.
Torres then sliced through the Houston defense again racing for the touchdown with 10:32 left that made it 29-27. Baker hit Jake Golday with a two-point conversion and it was tied at 29.
Houston took the lead for good on Momon’s long touchdown, 35-29, with 7:06 left. It was 36-29 after Dean’s kick. Bullock’s fumble recovery that led to Momon’s second touchdown of the game iced the win 42-29 with 3:42 left. Dean kicked Houston’s final point.
“Our defense stepped up two times and got two stops and we scored off those and went up 14. That sealed it,” said Smith.
The Tigers were not finished. A pass from Baker to Keith got to the Houston 30 before Baker’s pass to Golday got to the 14. On fourth and 10, Baker ran for a first down to the 2. However the Tigers could not score from inside the Houston 1 on the last play of the game.
Nischwitz said that he was “ecstatic” and “excited” after the win.
“We were young going into the season. Now that we are getting more experience we are getting a knack for winning. After the second loss hit we had a different mindset. We are not going to let it happen again. We are not going to lose a game. I learned that we can make plays when things are tough. When the score was tied we were completely deflated but we got back to offense. In the beginning there was a lot of vertical offense going on. We were a little slow in the back end in the second quarter then our running game picked up tremendously. Jaylin Momon had a great run. He played an outstanding game. Josh had great runs for touches. I thought our defense did an outstanding job tonight. I am very proud of how we handled adversity. I can’t express experience enough. I think confidence and experience both helped on the win.”
Thomas said, “Arlington was definitely much improved. I am proud of the way our guys battled. Arlington grabbed the lead and momentum but we kept fighting and making plays too. We did a lot of things well in spots. We threw the ball well I spots. We ran the ball well in spots.”
Thomas called the Mustangs resilient with all the different circumstances they have faced.
“They have done a good job of doing what I have asked them to do, adjusting to what we have had to deal with with all the restrictions and protocols. We are still playing football.”
The Mustangs’ win over ECS was a confidence booster said both Thomas and Wilkes.
“That is what gave us confidence,” said Wilkes, pleased with his team’s defense and “has some improving to do on the pass and run side.
At halftime we came in the locker room and said ‘We are better than this team’. We have to come out with confidence and that is what changed it.”
Houston starting right tackle and defensive lineman Jaylin Lee, a senior, “had a great game. He was forcing pressure all night. That is what we need,” said Wilkes.
Momon thought the Mustangs’ defense making stops on third and fourth downs was crucial.
“We couldn’t do it without our defense,” he said.
On Houston running plays “we blocked very well. We got first downs,” said Seals. Houston had 21 first downs to the Tigers’ 19.
Houston’s total offense totaled 455 yards (286 rushing, 169 passing). Arlington’s total offense was 296 (118 rushing, 178 passing).
“Our defense came up with a couple of good stops.
We definitely have heart. We kept playing even though we were down. We had a couple of turnovers but we kept fighting,” said Seals.
Smith, who caught three passes for 59 yards, called Wilkes’ play “amazing. He was all over the field, blocking everybody he could see. Ian had a big game. He was all over the field. He had some really good blocks on offense that set up for touchdowns. Will played good too.”
A key to the win was the running game.
“They couldn’t stop it,” said Smith. “After two losses we flipped it around in practice and started going hard hitting most days, getting the energy up. I think we are ready to play against anybody right now.”
Keith’s play stood out to Baker.
“It was obvious Houston’s game planned to stop Jake and Cannon. So we knew we were going to have to be successful and that’s when Dylan and J.J. stepped up and made some big-time plays,” said Baker.
Moeschle called it one of the Tigers’ most intense games this season.
“Arlington’s defense is one of the best parts of our team.”
Sykes said, “I thought our defense had a couple of drives where they bent but didn’t break and were able to give our offense another opportunity to put a drive together and get points.”
Moeschele said “Houston was really good at moving the ball down the field and we have to respect them for that. One thing I’ve learned about my team is that if we all come together as one we can accomplish anything. I’ve never seen so much effort given to this team than this season,” said Moeschele who wants to build off any criticism that he gets in his long snapping duties.
“Long snapping for field goals is an important role that’s often overlooked. If a game is won off a field goal it starts with the snap. I take pride in being responsible for the start of a play and if people criticize my snaps it encourages me to do better,” said Moeschle.
Keith led Arlington receivers with 72 yards on seven catches, Johnson 44 yards on two receptions, Golday 32 yards on four and Linebaugh 30 yards on two.
For Houston Vice caught two passes for 16 yards, Stegall one for 14, Goold one for 30 and Frankland one for 11. Stegall finished with 41 yards rushing on eight carries, Mathis 42 yards on 14.
Defensively for the Tigers sophomore linebacker Carter Wood led with 6.5 tackles along with Golday’s 6.5 tackles. Linebaugh had 3.5 tackles, Torres 3, Braxton Tompkins 3.5, Johnson 2.5, Jackson Powers 1.5, Parker McKenzie 2, Brady Garlock, Jackson Hair, Ashton Morgan, C.J. James, Braxton Wilson each had one. Christian Crew had a sack for Houston.
Deshields averaged 30 yards on two punts for Arlington, Goold 30.3 yards on three punts. Stegall led Houston in return yards with 58 while Momon had 23, Tim Toney 14, Seals 10. Tompkins added 15 for Arlington.
Maddox said that Linebaugh stood out for the Tigers “because of the plays he was making on defense and the first downs we gained because of him. Our O-line, Logan Patton, Carson Brimhall, Chancellor Pernell, Jackson Ward and myself have come a long way and exceeded a lot of people’s expectations for how we would play this year. We’re playing more of a unit than I’ve experienced in my other three years of high school football.
“This game is the same as losing any game, we learn from it. We’re not done yet. We have the rest of the season left and hopefully we get to see Houston again for a rematch in the the playoffs.”
Sykes was pleased that his team “fought the entire game. This team has proven though the first five games that they will fight to the end regardless of what the scoreboard says. There is never any quit in this group and goes a long way to describe their character,” he said.
Glad the game was over, Thomas said, “We came out on top. It was definitely back and forth.”
As for Torres making a third kickoff touchdown return, Thomas said, “We finally tried to keep it on the ground and keep it away form him. That worked a lot better than kicking it to him.”