The Blueprint: Wildcats fend off Naaman Forest late to preserve 3-0 start
GARLAND -- For the third consecutive game, the Plano Senior football team found itself nursing a one-score lead in the fourth quarter.
Having been there and done that, the Wildcats (3-0) followed the script from their first two victories and made the requisite plays to fend off another gritty effort from their opposition.
In Thursday's case, it was pulling out a 38-25 decision over Garland Naaman Forest (0-4) from Williams Stadium in a game broadcasted live on Verizon FiOS1.
"As disappointed as we are, I think when you go through wins like this you grow as a team," said Jaydon McCullough, Plano head coach. "Last year, it was the opposite: we were 3-0, blew everybody out and thought we were really good. Then we went into that first district game and didn't get any better.
"I could see it on our kids' faces that they're not happy with this performance, but we still did some good things tonight."
Such as closing out another opponent with a fourth-quarter lead on the line, as Thursday's win didn't come without having to sweat out a late push by Naaman.
The Rangers clawed back to within as few as five points at 31-25 with 4:05 left in the game after quarterback Justin Walker found Mike Iheme in the corner of the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal.
The Wildcats' counterattack took all of 38 seconds to unravel, as senior Andre Morman ripped off a 48-yard touchdown run to swell Plano's lead back up to 38-25 with 3:27 remaining.
Marching down the field for what would be its final drive, Naaman's effort fell by the wayside when Plano senior Grant Lyness picked off Walker in the end zone to preserve the win.
Plano looked to be on its way to avoiding another close call after extending its lead to 31-13 with 9:43 left in the fourth quarter following a 38-yard field goal by senior Jourdan Escobar.
The Rangers rallied back for 12 unanswered points, with Walker's touchdown pass preceded by a 25-yard touchdown run by Juaquin Davis, who compiled 142 yards and two scores on the ground.
"Give [Naaman] some credit," McCullough said. "... I want to give their coaching staff credit because they played very hard tonight. They played with a lot of heart."
While Davis required 26 carries, Plano didn't register more than 10 rushes for a running back, splitting the reps between Morman (nine rushes, 94 yards), freshman Brandon Stephens (eight for 36) and senior Braylan Campbell (seven for 55), with the latter enjoying a 9-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter to extend Plano's lead to 28-13.
While the rushers owned the second half in Thursday's win, the first two quarters belonged to senior Richard Lagow.
Entering Thursday's contest still awaiting his first touchdown pass of the season, Lagow finally erased that number two plays in the second quarter by launching a 49-yard completion to senior Devon Richardson to give the Wildcats a 14-7 lead.
The catch jumpstarted a run of five straight completions for 162 yards by Lagow to round out the opening half, including a 54-yard strike to sophomore Mitchell Hansen two Plano series later.
Lagow added a 1-yard touchdown run three plays later for a 21-7 lead with 4:44 left in the first half, a count Plano carried into halftime.
Despite attempting just four passes in the second half, Lagow finished the night with 207 yards and three touchdowns (two rushing, one passing) on 9-of-13 attempts.
"[Lagow] looked real comfortable back there," McCullough said. "He threw some great balls and you can see why he's considered a really good quarterback. He has a lot of poise and leadership."
The Rangers mustered their lone score of the first half on their opening drive, where they scampered downfield in just 1:45. Naaman's hurry-up attack kept the Wildcats off-kilter early, as Branson Ball punctuated the seven-play drive with a 5-yard touchdown run to offset a 2-yard touchdown run by Lagow to open the contest for Plano.
Both teams battled their share of miscues through the first two quarters as well, with Naaman denied on a pair of Eric Teller field goal attempts -- one missing wide left and another blocked by the Wildcats -- while Plano senior John Cummings had a 35-yard field goal clank off the right post and fall no good.
The Wildcats were also the victims of a pair of lost fumbles by Morman and Anthony Antwine, but mustered a takeaway of their own late in the half as junior Myles Solosberry picked off Walker after a pass to Ball took an errant bounce.
"We've got to get better," McCullough said. "I didn't think we executed as well as I had hoped and for whatever reason, that seems to be the case as of late coming off the bye week."
The Wildcats will carry their unbeaten mark into a Friday matchup at 7:30 p.m. from Clark Stadium against Hebron.
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