— By GREG WEBB
By game time on Friday at Kangaroo Stadium, general admission tickets were sold out for home-side seating, prompting some Weatherford fans to be diverted to the visitor’s side as the Roos hosted North Crowley on Homecoming Night in a District 3-5A matchup.
At stake in the contest was an inaugural win in district play for one of the combatant teams. After a first half of plenty of offense, yet no points to show for its efforts, Weatherford broke the ice in the final period with two scores, paired with a tenacious defense serving up several series of three-and-outs, to beat the Panthers, 14-6.
“Our kids came ready to play this week,” said Weatherford head coach Weldon Nelms. “They really rallied together for a cause.
“I could tell on the bus ride over here they were focused, and quite frankly, they were just really tired of the way things have been going.”
Nelms was realistic about the game not being a perfect outing, but also was quick to point out the absolute effort displayed by the Roos.
“We certainly missed some opportunities,” he said, “but I am so proud of these kids — they played their butts off, tonight.
“It truly was a total team effort and everyone of them deserves kudos.”
Down 6-0 at the half, the Roos small deficit looked to be in jeopardy after North Crowley took the second half kickoff to the Weatherford 11-yard line. But the WHS defense stuffed Panther QB Keith Thomas on two successive runs and successfully defended two pass attempts to regain possession on downs.
The opening stop set the tone for the Roo defense, who forced five North Crowley three-and-outs in seven second-half possessions.
The Weatherford offense dug itself out of the bad field position on the ensuing possession, but failed to score in the third quarter.
Sophomore quarterback Bryce Burks spelled starter Grant Werts late in the third period, and in their first series of the fourth quarter, the Roos finally broke the drought on an 18-yard off-tackle scoring jaunt by Jeuqwan Brownlee. A Trey Rich point-after gave Weatherford the lead it would not relinquish.
Brownlee had a few rough moments in the early going of the contest, but he proved to be the lightning rod for the Roos, finishing the night with 200 yards rushing on 24 carries.
“Jeuqwan had a couple of fumbles and missed a pass [in the first half],” Nelms said, “but he didn’t hang his head and give up.
“He just kept fighting and really ‘ran like a man’ tonight.”
The WHS defense doled out more of the same to the Panthers offensive efforts through the final period, until the seven-minute mark, when alternating runs by Brownlee and Burks resulted in a 3-yard touchdown by Brownlee. Rich split the uprights for the 14-6 final mark.
A sporadic passing game gave way to an effective rushing attack in the final period. Burks complimented Brownlee’s high-water mark of the season with an additional 61 yards on a dozen carries.
“Bryce came in and did a good job for us tonight,” Nelms said. “He has shown a lot of improvement this year and he really came through when we called on him.”
North Crowley, still within eight points with 1:34 left, had its hopes dashed when Fred Brownlee stepped in front of the Panther receiver to gather in an interception in the closing seconds.
Nelms, as well as the staff members who followed him to Weatherford, have been accustomed to winning at the state level. Nonetheless, the head coach was emotionally thrilled with the first victory at the helm of the Roos.
“I told the guys [in our post-game huddle] ‘I’ve been fortunate to enjoy a good number of successes in my life, and this one ranks right up there,’” he said. “And it’s not so much just for me, but for these kids.
“These kids needed this win so badly, and they deserved it. Our community and this program needed it, too.
“We’re going to finish out this season with the power we found tonight. It took us a while, but we took a big step tonight.”
Weatherford hopes to take its momentum to Arlington next week as it meets Lamar on Friday at Cravens Field. The Vikings had a good night of their own on Friday, putting together a 24-point second quarter, then holding on to beat Arlington Martin, 44-36.
The Roos are set for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff in their final road game of the season.