COLLINSVILLE – The Sand Rock Wildcat football team knew what it was up against before the 2021 season began.
Because of COVID-19 forfeits last season, the Wildcats were faced with seven road games this year. Friday night at rival Collinsville was their fourth, and for the fourth time away from Russell Jacoway Stadium, they earned a hard-fought win.
Junior Trace Haygood ran for 104 yards on 14 carries and scored two touchdowns. Sophomore Jacob Cornejo collected 59 yards on the same amount of totes to help the Wildcats grind out a 28-7 victory that ended a three-game skid against the Panthers.
“Last year we didn’t win a road game, so to be able to do that is great,” Sand Rock coach Alan Heath said. “I do want to win some home games this year too, but that’s huge. They say it’s supposed to be a tougher atmosphere on the road.”
Players like Haygood and Cornejo, and junior quarterback Ace Ashley, are making those tough road environments look easy this season.
“I guess we’re road warriors right now,” Cornejo said. “Our line really kicked it in for us tonight. They held up some blocks and we just started to get it going. We knew they weren’t going to take it easy on us, but we weren’t going to take it easy on them either. It was a good game, but we just came out on top.”
“We knew coming in here one of their biggest things was to beat us because we’re such big rivals. We knew they were going to hit us in the mouth, but we just kept going at them,” Haygood said.
Heath said he can’t say enough good things about the rushing duo.
“They work their tails off,” he said. “They’ve really been two of my hardest workers in the weight room. They do everything I ask them to do without complaining. They’re great kids and I love them like they’re my own sons. I’m proud of them. Their improvement from last year to this year has been tremendous.”
Haygood got the Wildcats (4-1) going on their first drive of the game. He capped a 6-play, 63-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run. Bryan East added the extra point to give Sand Rock a 7-0 lead with 9:25 remaining in the opening quarter.
Haygood scored again after a Panther punt, this time on a 12-yard run to cap an impressive 10-play, 99-yard march to firmly establish the Wildcat momentum at 14-0.
“We came out our first two drives of the game methodical, running the ball,” Heath said. “We went up 14-0 and that’s what we needed to do to set the tone. Getting momentum by running the football tonight was huge.”
Haygood added an interception near the end of the first quarter for good measure to help keep the Panthers (2-4) off-balance.
Collinsville finally found some life following a Sand Rock fumble late in the second quarter. Junior receiver Colton Wills caught a deflected pass from junior quarterback Keaton DeBoard in the end zone with just over a minute remaining before halftime. Tristan Gallegos’s extra point cut Sand Rock’s lead in half at 14-7.
But the Wildcats quickly took back control.
Ashley connected with junior tight end Logan Crider on a 35-yard scoring strike with less than a second left on the clock. East added the point after for a 21-7 Wildcat advantage at halftime.
Ashley also had a solid night throwing the football. He completed 16 of his 23 attempts, including his first six in a row. Ashley finished the game with 255 yards and two touchdowns through the air.
But it was his touchdown connection with Crider just before the first half ended that was the dagger for the Panthers.
“There wasn’t much time left, but they went down and hit us with a deep one right before the half,” Collinsville coach Ernie Willingham said. “At that time, with it being 14-7, we’d get the opening kickoff of the second half. We thought that (Wills touchdown) put some life back into us, but then they stuck a knife in our balloon right there at the end of the half.”
The Panthers could never put air back in their balloon in the second half.
Sand Rock’s defense came up with two fourth-down stops in the third quarter and forced a punt on the Panthers’ third possession of the quarter.
An Ashley-to-Brian Giles 45-yard touchdown pass to open the fourth quarter put the game out of reach. The Panthers finally got a substantial drive going late in the game, but a Tru Graham interception put the exclamation point on another Wildcat road win.
“Coach (RJ) Thornberry does a great job with our defense,” Heath said. “He does a great job of coming up with the right game plan and using the personnel we can to try and stop teams. Tonight the plan was dead on. I think the kids did a real good job of executing that plan.”
DeBoard led the Panthers by completing 6-of-20 pass attempts for 72 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 43 yards on 16 carries.
Collinsville has an off week before traveling to Plainview on Oct. 8. Sand Rock rolls into Locust Fork on Friday.