By Bill Sorrell
Photo by Roger Cotton
Tyler Colllier put the Collier in Collierville on Friday night.
A junior wide receiver, Collier caught six passes for 159 yards including an 80-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ethan Pettigrew to lead the Dragons to a 21-14 Region 7-6A victory over Houston at Houston on Friday.
“Tyler Collier stepped up his game. I have always had trust in Tyler. He has always been consistent,” said Pettigrew.
Collierville punter and placekicker Hudson Hollenbeck said that Collier “came out with a chip on his shoulder. He wasn’t messing around. Almost 160 yards, six catches with two touchdowns, is no joke.”
A friend of Collier’s who used to work out with him, Houston wide receiver and punter Carson Goold said, “I didn’t expect him to have that big of a game. That is what hurt us.”
Collier’s long touchdown reception with 7:24 left in the third quarter put the Dragons, who were playing their first region game, ahead 21-7 after Hollenbeck’s extra point.
“The momentum changed when they got that super long touchdown,” said Goold.
Playing his second game after a shoulder injury, Houston wide receiver/cornerback Will Stegall, who played free safety on Friday, said, “The big plays they made just killed us overall. They kept pounding it down our throat.”
Avenging a 56-20 loss to Houston last season in a game where the Mustangs clinched the region championship, Collierville improved to 3-2 while Houston fell to 2-4, 1-2 in region.
“The win means the world. Every year we’re always excited to play the school our west, Houston, and especially how we were treated by them last year, we love getting some good ole revenge,” said Hollenbeck. “Everyone on the team felt the same way and I feel that’s why we beat them. We wanted it more.
“There is nothing like the family we have built at Collierville. Seeing us all work together as a team, holding each other accountable to take on the opposing team was special. It doesn’t matter what happens in the end. I know that we have a whole football team of family who is fighting for a common cause.”
Family is how Houston offensive/defensive lineman Harrison Wilkes describes his team.
“At the end of the day it’s a family. I am trying to teach the young guys how to be a leader,” said Wilkes, a senior captain.
The Dragons were led by Pettigrew, a junior, who completed 15 of 24 passes for 234 yards, sparking their 352 yards total offense. The Dragons rushed for 118 yards with junior running back Troy Martin gaining 61. Senior running back Dylan Powell added 37 rushing yards and scored a touchdown while Pettigrew rushed for 25.
Along with Collier, Pettigrew said that Martin was one of the Dragons’ impact players.
“Troy Martin also stepped up and has earned a spot in the starting lineup. He is clutch on third down and an all around very awareness player.”
Collierville’s offensive line of Noah Upchurch (left tackle), Cole Waycaster (left guard), Gavin Trufler (center), Davinci Floyd (right guard), Ian Falkner (right tackle) paved the way.
“We have a great offense with a big O-line, a great quarterback and receivers with great hands and speed. Our team strengths are always there,” said Hollenbeck.
Adding to the receiving yards for the Dragons were Josh Hampton with 47 yards on three receptions, Martin 22 on three and A.J. Bates 21 on two.
“They out-hustled us. We made a lot of mistakes and beat ourselves,” said Will Stegall. “On film we saw a lot of their tight-bunch sets. They were going to pound it down our throats. When they made some big plays we weren’t ready and they kind of killed us and we weren’t able to bounce back.”
The Mustangs had 300 yards total offense with Jaylin Momon gaining a game-high 88 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown and Josh Mathis 65 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown.
Houston rushed for 249 yards with quarterback Gray Nischwitz gaining 39 yards on eight carries, Ben Stegall had 28 yards on eight carries, Will Stegall 23 yards on four, Brady Weatherly 6 yards on one rush.
Nischwitz completed 4 of 10 passes for 51 yards. R.H. Frankland caught two passes for 35 yards and Darby Smith one for 10, Will Stegall one for 6 yards.
“It’s been a process all year,” said Houston head coach James Thomas. “We are trying to put some kids in different spots and find places where they are going to be most successful for the team. It wasn’t the result that we wanted but I still feel like this is a team that can get it done in November.
“Their quarterback made a couple of throws. They made some catches. They ran the ball well enough to run the clock on us. I thought Will Stegall gave us a little boost.
“The defensive line got after it pretty good, Jack Greer (senior defensive lineman/tight end) made some plays in the backfield. Christian Crew (junior linebacker) did a great job (he had a team-high 8 tackles), made a couple of hits on the quarterback, couple of sacks, couple of plays in the backfield. Ian Bullock is getting really good at defensive line. We’ve asked him to move down and put his hand in the dirt. He is getting better and better every day.
“Darby made a couple of catches. I thought Jaylin Momon ran the ball hard. Ben Stegall ran the ball hard. Josh Mathis ran the ball hard. We kind of sputtered when we got inside the red zone a little bit.
“We know that we can run the football well. We needed to make some plays in the air when they are there to make. We have to stay patient with the kids. It’s a learning process.”
Collierville head coach Joe Rocconi’s team has 24 seniors with six starters returning on offense and five on defense. Among the leaders for the multiple offense are wide receiver Scottie Alexander (who missed the game because of a hamstring injury but should return next game) and Upchurch. Among the odd-front defense leaders is linebacker Ethan Hassler, who has committed to Southern Mississippi, and cornerback Alston Elam. On the roster are 26 juniors which should bode well for the 2021 team.
Hassler stood out for the Dragons said Wilkes. Hassler finished with 9 total tackles, Jaden Malone had a team-high 11 plus a sack. Both had 7 solo tackles. J.D. Mills had 6 total tackles plus an interception.
“They took care of the ball. They won the turnover battle 1-0. In a tight game like that when two teams are even you try to win the turnover battle and we didn’t,” said Thomas.
After Mills’ interception in the first quarter, “I feel that showed Houston we were coming to play a game that we weren’t willing to lose. It showed what we can do the rest of the game, just some real man’s football and we pushed them down,” said Hollenbeck,
Hollenbeck, who kicked a 40-yard field goal with 57 seconds left to beat Gallatin 20-19 on Sept. 18, kicked three extra points against Houston and averaged 28 yards on three punts with his longest 32 yards.
“What helps me in my punting and PAT abilities is to remember what I have been working for. I try my hardest to remember my steps and fundamentals. I take a deep breath and do what I love. What I feel my biggest kicking strength is what I allow myself mentally to believe. I am best at being confident in myself and know that God has a plan with whatever happens in the game that I love to play most. I can do it all through the Lord’s glory.
“It is not me that changes the momentum. This is a team sport. I give all of my credit in the game to my hard-working brothers that allow me to have the opportunity as well as God. I am very blessed to be doing what I love.”
His inspiration comes from two sources.
“I prayed about serving God in any way possible and how I have been brought in the position I am now. I want to do what God has planned for my life and I am confident in the fact that I am on the right path. If tomorrow I were to break my leg and doing something completely different I know that God has all of His plans for my life set in stone and I can keep a smile on my face knowing that there is an Almighty plan,” he said.
“I would like to keep going for my mom (Gina Hollenbeck) who is diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Every time my foot touches a football I think about my mom and how if I keep going I can go as far as I want. I want to spread lung cancer awareness.”
She was diagnosed in October 2015.
Pettigrew said that he has a lot of faith in Hollenbeck.
“He has always been an amazing kicker and always been clutch under pressure.”
Wilkes said the difference in the game was that the Mustangs did not execute. “We could have played a lot better.”
Said Will Stegall, “We need to get better on offense and defense. Our offense needs to get better up front and start catching the ball at receiver. We have got to make some tackles and can’t get beat deep in the secondary. As a whole we played good but we weren’t there to make some plays that needed to happen.”
After Momon had gotten a first down on the Dragons 49, Mills intercepted at his 16. Houston later forced a punt. On their third series of the first quarter, Houston scored after a 63-yard drive.
A 10-yard run by Will Stegall, a 22-yard pass reception by Frankland got to the Dragons 1. Mathis scored on the last play of the first quarter. Carson Richards kicked the extra point and it was 7-0.
A 58-yard drive tied the game at 7-7. John Hampton had a 41-yard kick return to the Houston 40. Three runs by Martin got the Dragons to the Houston 30. Crew sacked Pettigrew for a 4-yard loss. Then Pettigrew hit Collier for a 32-yard pass to the 2. Powell then ran to the 1 and then ran 1 yard for a touchdown with 8:04 left in the second quarter. Hollenbeck kicked the PAT.
“We needed the fist touchdown to get our confidence up,” said Pettigrew. “After the first touchdown our whole team was clicking together.”
During the second quarter, Collierville senior quarterback Alston Elam had two pass breakups. After a Goold punt, the Dragons took over on their 44.
Later Pettigrew threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Collier. Hollenbeck made it 14-7 with 4 seconds left in the second quarter.
Pettigrew connected with Collier again for the 80-yard touchdown pass and Hollenbeck’s PAT put the Dragons ahead 21-7 in the third quarter.
“That was a big momentum swing,” said Thomas.
In the fourth quarter the Mustangs pulled within a touchdown following a 66-yard drive. A 12-yard run by Mathis, a 6-yard run by Will Stegall that got a first down, a 4-yard first down run by Momon and a 6-yard run by Mathis that also netted a first down preceded Mathis’ 16-yard run to the Dragons 4. Momon then ran 3 yards for a touchdown and it was 21-13 with 7:41 left. Richards’ extra point closed the gap to 21-14.
Recovering an onside kick, the Dragons used the game’s last seven-plus minutes to get to the Houston 1-yard line. Powell was tackled for a 3-yard loss.
Pettigrew attributed the Dragons’ ability to milk the clock and second half play to the offensive line.
“They played a big role in winning that game,” he said. “We were able to run it right up the middle and get around five yards (per carry). Our strengths have been our offensive line and our countless number of playmakers on offense and defense. Our defense did a heck of a job holding Houston to only 14 points and gave the offense great opportunities in field position.”
Will Stegall had experience on many parts of the field. He said that he could make more plays at free safety. He also played quarterback which he called “awesome. I did a few good things. I love doing that.
“I was trying to set a goal for myself and play better. I wanted to read their offense a lot better and make a whole lot of play. I wanted to get a win for our team.”
Goold, who has talked with colleges about scholarships, said his inspiration is to win the state championship.
“I still think we can. At the end of the game we had people cheering us on on the sidelines. Everyone believes we still have a shot. We need to keep using that. We’ve got to pull it all together and put perfect drives together, no drops, no penalties. We have to step up better on defense. I thought we stopped the run pretty well tonight. It was just those big plays on offense that really ruined the game for us,” he said. “We didn’t get any luck (tonight).”
The Mustangs’ Weatherlly had 7 tackles, Cooper Lomax 5, Will Stegall, Frankland, Bullock 4 each. Greer made 3 tackles, Ben Stegall, Smith, Max Stegall and Wilkes 2 each. Mathis, Caleb Schmidt, Momon, Kavion Benton, Jaylin Lee, T.J. Rogers 1 each. Momon had a 44-yard kick return.
For Collierville, Mills made 6 tackles, Christian Flynn 5. Elam made 2 tackles and finished with 3 pass breakups. Sam Holtz made 3 tackles while Jacob Crouch, Harrison Craig, Eli Grizzard, Antonio Chambers, Gysai Wallace, Christian Iroh had 1 each. Hampton also had a 17-yard kick return.
Houston had 23 first downs, Collierville 20. The Dragons made 8 of 13 third down conversions while Houston 3 of 9.
Collierville will host Arlington at 7 p.m. Oct. 23. Houston’s regular season is over if the Mustangs don’t find replacement games for KIPP, Cordova, Southwind, all Shelby County Schools teams that are not playing this year because of COVID.
Will Stegall called Houston’s 2-4 record “heartbreaking. My first two years I started on varsity we did really good (Houston was 13-1 last year, losing in the state semifinals) and this year showed me how a team really is when it is not going your way. We have got to get better and start making plays.”
Wilkes said, “Hopefully we can pick it up during these weeks we don’t play and get ready for the playoffs.”
The Mustangs will stay positive said Thomas.
“That is the only choice you have. Are you going to sit down and cry and point fingers? No we are not going to do that. We are going to get better. As weird as this year is, we are still going to be in the second round of the playoffs. We won’t be hosting a game probably but we are going to be playing these same teams that we faced and hopefully win the ones that count.
“We are not trying to be the best team in October, we are trying to be the best team in November.”
The Dragons have fun playing big games said Pettigrew.
“It’s always fun playing under head coach Joe Rocconi. Having fun has really helped us with our success this year. It’s always a good time when we get to ring the (victory) bell.”
The victory is a confidence boost said Hollenbeck.
“If we play our hardest with effort and have a common goal we can do great things. I want to keep going because I want more people to know about the sleeping giant waiting to be woken up at Collierville and what we are trying to accomplish.”