Ellison took its first win of the season Friday night at Leo Buckley Stadium with a 35-16 victory over Waco in their District 12-6A opener.
“That feels good,” said senior running back Tye Hill as he glanced at the scoreboard after the game. “Because the last time we were home, it didn’t look too good.”
The last time the Eagles were home they took a 48-7 season-opening loss against A&M Consolidated.
“We had to come out here with a different mentality,” Hill noted. “Because everybody was like, ‘Oh, Ellison? What are they doing? They’re 0-2.’ But we came out here and showed everybody what we’re about. We got everything together.”
Eagles head coach Todd Wright has seen a change and growth in his players and staff on and off the field since the start of the season.
“We played a good team last week and we were in it,” Wright said of a 28-12 loss at Austin Vandegrift. “We knew that if we just executed a little bit more, we’d have a better chance.
“I think the energy was better and we had a couple of explosive plays.”
Waco may have gotten on the board first with a touchdown early in the first quarter, but Ellison’s defense stopped the extra point attempt to trail 6-0.
On the kickoff return, senior Rian McKinley ran 95 yards to the end zone to tie the game. Cayden Triggs’ kick on the extra point was good and the Eagles took a 7-6 lead.
“Our kicker made some kicks, which we didn’t last week,” Wright said. “We flanked a few last week but our field kicker did a great job.
“We’re going to need him in a few weeks when games are closer, so we’re starting to feel more comfortable with him.”
The Lions then brought in senior JaWayne Howard at quarterback but on fourth-and-11 after a penalty put Waco at its own 8-yard line, he fumbled the snap which Ellison recovered on the 3.
Within sight of the end zone, junior quarterback Breezion Spiller scrambled out of the pocket and up the middle for a touchdown that put the Eagles up 15-6 after a successful two-point conversion from Khalil China.
Spiller made his way into the end zone once more in the second quarter as Ellison took a 21-6 lead after a second two-point conversion failed.
“It feels great,” Spiller said of the win. “We have a young team, but I’m proud of my receivers and ‘thank you’ to my linemen.
“They did what we had to do and kept moving the ball up the field.”
The Lions attempted a 42-yard field goal late in the first half but it was no good.
Following the break, Hill took the kickoff return up the right side for an 87-yard touchdown.
The Eagles led 28-6 with 11 minutes and 45 seconds left in the third quarter.
Waco responded with another touchdown at the end of the third quarter to put the Lions within 15 points, 28-13.
Looking to distance themselves in the fourth quarter, Spiller launched a deep ball for a 55-yard touchdown pass to Greg Cooke that put the Eagles ahead 35-13.
The Lions added a late field goal to cap the scoring.
Hill led the Eagles in rushing with 95 yards on 11 carries. Spiller was second with 81 yards on 10 carries and senior running back David Carey added 32 yards in five carries.
Spiller also completed 12-of-18 passes for 123 yards and one touchdown.
Cooke led Ellison receivers with 65 yards on two catches and junior wide receiver Stacey Brown had 20 yards in five catches.
Hill had 19 yards on three catches and senior wide receiver Traelon Williams caught two passes for 11 yards.
McKinley also combined for 110 yards on two kickoff returns.
“We got lined up better and the kids executed better,” Wright noted. “We still have to keep our tempo and our pace.”
Penalties were a problem, however. Ellison was flagged 10 times for a total of 110 yards.
“That’s got to be fixed,” Wright said. “We had a great chance to make the score more lopsided.
“We drove down and we shot ourselves in the foot.”
But of all the flags, it was back-to-back penalties — a false start and illegal formation — that cost the Eagles two touchdowns.
One of those flags was thrown on a 25-yard pass from Spiller to Carey, who was waiting in the end zone to add another touchdown.
“Our motto is, if you mess up, keep it pushing,” Spiller said. “We’re never going to doubt (a player) because we’re all family here, we’re all brothers.
“When you mess up, keep your head in the game.”
Yet, Hill admitted that his passion for the game and his competitive spirit sometimes gets the better of him on the field.
“I’m a hothead,” he said. “So most of the time I get mad and fuss at my teammates, but it’s no disrespect.
“They know I love the game and I hate losing, so when everything is going wrong, I get heated.”
But Hill noted that wide receivers coach Adrian Miller helps him calm down on the sidelines in order to channel that energy in a productive way in the game.
Hill added his emotions also come from the potential he sees in his fellow Eagles.
“We have so much talent,” he said. “And when we lost the first two games it was like, ‘Bro, we’re too talented for this.’
“We just made mental errors, we just had to get everything together.”
As Ellison heads to Waco next week to face Midway, going in with a district record of 1-0 gives the Eagles a confidence boost.
“We’re coming and we’re prepared,” Hill said. “The environment in Waco is huge — their fans, their coaches, everything — it’s just a different atmosphere, so they’re going to have the upper hand with the whole momentum.”
“A win there,” he added, “man, that’s the Super Bowl.
“That’s the Super Bowl to us because they’ve been beating us.”
Despite the bumpy start to the season, the Eagles still have their eyes set on the prize.
“We’re trying to go to playoffs and then win state,” Hill said. “We’re trying to go deep, go past the first round.”
After snapping a 10-year playoff drought last season, Ellison is determined to not only make the playoffs but make a deep run for the state title.
“We just got to keep everybody’s heads up,” Hill said. “Just remind everybody what we’re trying to do.”