BRYAN — Ace Whitehead doesn’t get pre-game jitters, but Friday night’s matchup wasn’t just any other game.
“I’m not going to lie, I’m usually not nervous before games,” Whitehead admitted after Lampasas faced Freeport Brazosport in the first round of the Class 4A, Division I playoffs. “But this one, I had some butterflies.”
The Badgers won the coin toss and elected to receive, but the sophomore quarterback just couldn’t complete a pass to his receivers and Lampasas was forced to punt the ball away.
The Exporters struck first within 30 seconds of the start to take a 7-0 lead that held into the second quarter.
Whitehead shook off the nerves and rallied the Badgers to a 42-35 victory.
“We don’t ever talk about playoffs,” Lampasas coach Troy Rogers said. “We never have.
“We don’t talk about what the score’s going to be at the end of the game; it’s about the process.
“It’s always about the process.”
With seniors leading the way, such as running back Landon Irvin, who ran for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, this team has nothing but faith in the process.
“You can kind of feel when you have a special group,” said Rogers. “And that’s what we have with these guys, and the senior leadership has been unbelievable.
“We got guys that are just trying to fight for each other. It’s a family and that’s what makes it fun. It’s fun to coach these guys.”
Not only are the experienced upperclassmen leading the way, but the underclassmen have also emerged as leaders and contributors on the field for the Badgers.
“That’s what’s exciting,” said Rogers. “I’m proud of the way they battled back tonight and showed that they can overcome adversity, which is what we talk about a lot.
“They did it and no one flinched, and that’s key. You’re going to have those moments in games.”
Lampasas handled the pressure with ease.
The Badgers started at their own 25 when Whitehead scanned the field and then ran 73 yards for a touchdown to tie the game, 7-7.
“The receivers did a great job of blocking on that down the field,” Whitehead said. “I think after we did that, we got some momentum knowing we could score on them.”
The sophomore kept his composure throughout the game while going head-to-head with Exporters’ junior quarterback Brendan Brimage.
“I get that I’m a sophomore,” said Whitehead. “But once we’re on the field, it’s just another person — man versus man.
“That’s just how it is. I don’t think about it really. I just go out there and play ball with my brothers.”
And play ball the Badgers did.
Although Brazosport moved ahead with another touchdown on its next drive, Lampasas found itself at its own 24 on the next drive.
Whitehead kept a level head and found a wide-open Cameron Everts at the Exporters’ 30 for a 46-yard pass.
Everts added another 9 yards up the left side of the field before being forced out of bounds, but it was enough to place the Badgers in position to score.
Lampasas sophomore running back Jack Jerome ran in a 23-yard touchdown to tie the game once more.
Whitehead added three long passes to Everts and sophomore wide receiver Michael Murray in the second half that led to Badger touchdowns from Murray and Irvin.
“A lot of guys stepped up and I’m proud of them for that,” Whitehead said.
Defensively, the Badgers forced three turnovers, including interceptions by junior defensive backs Koby Allen and Clayton Bever.
“It makes me feel better about our team and each other,” Allen said of contributing to the win. “I mean, that’s what it was about tonight, coming together and making plays — playing for everyone else and not ourselves.”
With the visitor bleachers filled with a sea of Badger blue, the boys on the sideline never once lost sight of who, or what, they were playing for on Friday night at Merrill Green Stadium.
“I didn’t really notice at first,” said Whitehead. “But when we ran out of the tunnel and I looked up there and saw a bunch of people, it was just like ‘wow.’
“We got a lot of support, a great student section, and we’re very thankful for that.”
The crowd, along with the band, cheer and dance teams, fueled the fire on the Badgers sideline.
“It really helped us a lot,” said Allen. “I felt like I was at home and it was just great to see the stands full.”
Not only did the fans come out, but the community support had the team ready to play from the moment they left town.
“We had a great send-off (Friday) that was as special as you can have,” said Rogers. “The school came out and all the kids, teachers and administrators were out there.”
As the buses rolled out of town, fans lined the highway with signs and banners.
“Lampasas is a special place,” noted Rogers, who played under center for the Badgers and graduated in 1994. “Badger Nation is alive and well, not just in football but in other sports as well.
“The fans come out and support these kids and it’s a special place.”
Most high school kids look forward to a holiday break, but this Thanksgiving the Badgers are thankful to extend their season another week.
“Right now we’re 0-0,” said Allen. “We only have next week guaranteed, so we’re going to get after it this week and see what happens.”
With no school, Whitehead has only one plan for spending the week off before the area-round game Friday: Eat. Sleep. Play football. Repeat.
“I told them, the only thing better than being in the playoffs is playing over Thanksgiving,” said Rogers.
The Badgers coach speaks from experience as he guided Lampasas to the state quarterfinals in 1993 and established the best record in program history at 12-2.
Prior to coming to Lampasas in 2016, Rogers helped Galena Park North Shore win the Class 6A, Division I state championship in 2015 as the Mustangs’ offensive coordinator.
“Winning tonight, we’ve given ourselves another opportunity to do what we love to do, and that’s play football,” said Rogers after Friday’s win. “I’m excited about what that opportunity holds.”
CLASS 4A, DIV. I AREA ROUND
- La Vernia (10-1) vs. Lampasas (7-4), 7:30 p.m. Friday, Austin’s Reeves Complex