SALADO — For a long while, Salado seemed to be able to do anything it wanted against Waco Connally in a District 8-4A-II opener Friday night at Eagle Stadium.
Eventually, however, it took everything the Eagles could muster to stave off the Cadets’ valiant comeback. Salado faced adversity — namely trying to contain Connally junior running back Jay’Veon Sunday — but still found a way to “make the lemonade sweet,” according to Eagles coach Alan Haire.
After leading 21-0 early and 40-14 in the third quarter behind its slot-T rushing attack, Salado allowed Connally to score three consecutive touchdowns and pull within 40-35 entering the fourth. But the Eagles’ defense produced a crucial turnover on downs at its 31-yard line 5 minutes into the final period, then Salado rode the rushing of Hunter Turk and Connor Cook to exhaust the clock and earn a riveting 40-35 victory.
“Whatever the circumstances are . . . that’s how we like it. At some point, you’ve got to make the lemonade sweet,” said Haire, whose Eagles (3-2) survived Sunday’s 212-yard, four-TD performance to defeat Connally (3-2) in district for the third straight season.
“We wanted to have the mentality that it’s 0-0 throughout the game,” said Turk, who had TD runs of 3, 14 and 10 yards to help Salado build its 34-14 halftime lead. “O-line, defense, we played our hearts out.”
Salado generated a massive performance on the ground, rushing 50 times for 484 yards, 332 in the first half. Turk carried 20 times for 173 yards and three touchdowns, Cook ran 20 times for 167 yards and one TD and Wrook Brown racked up 148 yards on six carries highlighted by 54- and 29-yard scores for the final two Eagles TDs.
“They handled the pressure and executed. They work hard and they’re good kids,” Haire said.
Haire praised Salado’s blockers: senior tackles Jo’Kwan Langston and Bryce Wales, senior guards Trace Medlin and Ryan Starritt, sophomore center Bryce Dobbins and senior tight end Ashten Sniggs.
“They put a body on a body and gave our backs a chance to find a seam,” Haire said.
Connally’s defense had no answers for Salado’s sharply executed ground game in the first half, as Turk’s 3- and 14-yard TDs wrapped around Cook’s 3-yard score created a 21-0 Eagles lead a minute into the second quarter.
Connally responded with Sunday’s 4- and 10-yard touchdown rumbles in the second, but Turk’s 10-yard TD rush and Brown’s 54-yard scoring sprint with 37 seconds remaining staked the Eagles to a 34-14 halftime lead.
Brown got loose again for a 29-yard touchdown run 3½ minutes into the third to make it 40-14 but in a huge turn of events, Connally’s defense tightened to hold Salado scoreless for the duration.
Touchdown runs of 2 and 9 yards by the 190-pound Sunday got the Cadets within 40-28 late in the third, then they recovered an onside kick and made it 40-35 just 13 seconds later when Korie Black caught Gaylon Glynn’s 48-yard scoring bomb.
Those third-quarter fireworks didn’t suggest a scoreless fourth, but Kavian Gaither promptly intercepted Salado freshman Hutton Haire’s only pass. The Cadets marched from their 36 to the Eagles 31 with 7 minutes left but on fourth-and-9, Salado broke up Glynn’s pass before the Eagles’ rushing attack sealed the win.