Sports > Schools
Second-half stops, sacks leave Wildcats corralled by Cowboys
COPPELL -- With 26 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s bi-district matchup with Coppell, Plano Senior senior Connor Michelsen trotted to his huddle during a timeout.
The signal caller’s jersey was haggard and sullied, with his name plate partially torn and hanging by a thread from his uniform.
It was a cavalcade of signs all too symbolic for the previous 47-and-a-half minutes of Wildcat football opposite the rugged, trench-savvy Cowboys; a still-unbeaten unit that upped its 2010 ledger to 11-0 with a 23-6 victory from Cowboys Stadium.
Extending its cushion to 17 points required a bit more legwork than usual from Coppell, which had outscored its prior opposition by an average margin of 34.5 points.
It meant a pair of rapid-fire scores that ballooned a 7-3 halftime lead into a 20-3 Cowboy lead with 7:37 remaining in the third quarter.
“We needed more cushion,” said Joe McBride, Coppell head coach. “It was 7-3 and a one-score game. Our offense did a great job getting the ball and scoring. Our kickoff team then made a tremendous play, which made [Plano] have to scramble a bit faster to start scoring.”
Possessing the ball to open the third stanza, Coppell looked to be a far cry from the unit that mustered one touchdown through two quarters against the rough-and-tumble Plano defense.
Carrying the ball just four times through one half, Coppell rusher Cam McDaniel nabbed four carries in the Cowboys’ first third-quarter drive alone. The back compiled 21 yards on said drive, but it was a 36-yard completion from quarterback Joe Minden to receiver Kyle Echerd that put the Cowboys on Plano’s 2-yard line.
One play later, Minden faked a handoff to McDaniel and trotted those last 2 yards for a 14-3 Coppell lead. Minden tabbed 210 yards on 17-of-26 passing alongside one touchdown.
Plano’s retaliation would be short-lived, as senior Blair Burns fumbled the ensuing kickoff back to Coppell, which needed just three more plays before McDaniel broke free for a 10-yard touchdown.
The running back totaled 62 yards on the ground and courtesy of a throng of well-timed Minden shovel passes, tacked on 86 receiving yards on eight catches.
“That third quarter was critical,” said Jaydon McCullough, Plano head coach. “We felt pretty good going into halftime down, 7-3. Pretty much everybody Coppell has played this year, they’ve routed them, so we felt pretty good. But we told the kids that quarter would be critical.”
The Wildcats kept Coppell out of the end zone for the remainder of the contest but making up any ground proved as lofty a task as it has been for any offense to combat the Cowboys this season.
While a 24-yard field goal by senior Chris Moore made it a two-score affair at 20-6 early in the fourth quarter, Plano would get four more chances to draw things closer but came away empty-handed each time.
A pair of Michelsen interceptions ended two of the aforementioned drives, with a sack by Coppell’s Tanner Rice bludgeoning a fourth-down attempt by the Wildcats.
Rice made his presence known all game long, recording three of seven Coppell sacks on Michelsen.
“[Rice] is the best defensive player in the area,” McBride said. “He’s probably the most unheralded from a recruiting standpoint and I just don’t understand that. There’s not anybody in the games we’ve played who has been able to block him yet.”
A unit adept at forcing turnovers all season long, the Wildcats were beaten at their own game with Coppell owning a 4-2 edge in takeaways.
“[The takeaways] were huge,” McBride said. “Our kids just executed a couple times when Plano was trying to score and we just bowed up. We were bending a bit, but we just bowed up and made plays.”
The feisty Cowboy defense made life hard on Michelsen, whose season ended on 25-of-41 passing for 221 yards and three interceptions. Deriving the bulk of its offense underneath the coverage, seniors Murat Kuzu and Clayton Parlin posted 72 and 70 receiving yards, respectively.
With Coppell’s front seven hampering any signs of a traditional Plano running attack, Michelsen had to make a number of plays on his feet as well, scrambling for 47 yards during Plano’s second scoring drive.
“With Connor Michelsen, what more can you say?” McCullough said. “That kid’s a warrior and a gladiator. He had his hand banged up and he exemplifies what Plano is all about.”
The Wildcats’ defense made life tough for the Cowboys early on though, limiting McDaniel to just eight yards on the ground and allowing just seven points.
“[Plano] is great on defense,” McBride said. “Our offense has been explosive all year but we knew going in the tradition that Plano has with the kind of players and coaches they have, that this wasn’t going to be a blowout.”
With its most effective tool being the Minden-McDaniel shovel pass, Coppell crept just outside the Wildcats’ redzone on its second drive of the contest. What followed was a pair of Minden completions, the latter of which found Tyler Landis in the back of end zone for an 8-yard touchdown to bump the Cowboys out in front, 7-0.
Plano retaliated after a Coppell pass interference call wiped out a third-and-18 after a Rice sack. Given life, Plano made good on that opportunity by steadily trudging downfield in a drive that spanned 15 plays and eight minutes; capped by a 41-yard field goal by Moore to trim Coppell’s lead to 7-3.
Coppell kicker Nick Jordan added a 28-yard field goal on Coppell’s final drive of the game for the 23-6 edge and a victory that procures a matchup on Saturday from Arlington’s Cowboys Stadium opposite Duncanville at 8 p.m.