Junior Cougars End Season with Victory
The Rector football program has certainly had its share of difficulties stretching back several years, so Thursday night's 20-14 victory over the visiting Marked Tree Indians was an exceptionally satisfying moment for the Junior Cougars. With the victory, Rector closes the 2014 campaign with a 2-5-1 overall record and a 2-5 mark in 2A-3 conference action, but gained significant momentum in the final half of the season. In their final four games, the Cougars posted wins over Midland and Marked Tree while falling to Earle and Cross County by six and eight points, respectively.
"They got so much better," an emotional David Hendrix said of his team following Thursday's win. "This team improved so much. The kids bought in. Since that first game to the last, it doesn't even look like the same football team. I couldn't be more proud of them because I've seen firsthand how hard they've worked and how much we've improved."
The Junior Cougars held a 14-6 advantage going into the fourth frame and appeared to be on the verge of moving ahead by two touchdowns. As a pile of Junior Cougars moved to the Marked Tree goal line, the Junior Indians were able to strip the ball and race 100 yards for a touchdown with 7:00 remaining in the contest. The successful two-point try left the scored knotted up at 14-14.
Undaunted, Rector put together a scoring drive on its next possession to lock in the victory. Quarterback Hunter McNeely hit an open Conly Lockhart with a pass in stride for the 27-yard go-ahead touchdown with 2:43 left in the contest, as the Cougars and their fans roared with delight for the late game heroics. Caleb Stokes, Colby Stokes and Evan Dooley helped with the heavy lifting, carrying the ball with success on the 62-yard drive. Rector's try for two was stopped short, but the touchdown proved to be the difference in the game.
Marked Tree took advantage of a Junior Cougar fumble on the game's opening possession. Paul Coleman broke away for an 89-yard quarterback keeper as the Junior Indians jumped out to a 6-0 advantage with 1:52 left in the opening frame.
Rector got on the board in the final seconds of the first half on a hard run up the middle by Caleb Stokes. Stokes was able to roll past the pylon, as he acrobatically shifted his body and stretched forward as he was being brought down by the visiting defenders. McNeely and Lockhart hinted at things to come when they connected on the successful conversion to give Rector an 8-6 lead with 12 seconds left in the half. The Cougars overcame two fumbles on the series, managing to keep possession of both loose balls.
Another fumble in the first play of Rector's opening series in the second half sent the ball to the Indians, but the visitors returned the favor on their third attempt from the line of scrimmage, where Frank Herrera caused and captured the turnover at the Cougars' 36-yard-line.
The recovery set the table for the Junior Cougars' second touchdown of the night, coming on a Caleb Stokes touchdown from three yards out with 4:45 left in the third quarter. The try for two was denied, leaving Rector in front, 14-6.
The Junior Cougars recovered two onside kicks in the first half. Tabor Trail covered the loose ball on the game's opening kickoff and Kale Hardin secured the ball following Rector's first touchdown of the game. The outstanding special teams effort kept the visitors' offense from building more momentum, aiding in the victory.
"These kids played their hearts out tonight," Hendrix said. "They kept after it and made plays when we had to have them. It was a great effort by the entire team. This is a good win and a great way to end the season. I'm proud of all of them."