Last Thursday night at Comalander Stadium, Smithson Valley (7-1, 5-1 in 26-5A) gave those in attendance a glimpse of exactly how good they can be, playing mistake-free offense and resilient defense in their 47-27 win over the Reagan Rattlers.
The Rangers gave their best performance of the season in arguably their biggest game to date, and in the process, clinched a spot in the playoffs and seized control of the previously chaotic district 26-5A race.
“We had a couple of fourth down stops and big kicking game plays,” Head Coach Larry Hill said. “Just more than anything, I think it was an iron will by our kids. They just decided we’re going to do it our way tonight and we did, and when the playoffs start, we’re in there.”
Smithson Valley utilized their offensive line play all night long, opening up big holes for Trent Rios and wearing down the Rattler front seven, especially in the second half. In typical Ranger fashion, SV picked up the intensity after halftime, turning a closely contested ball game into a three-score victory.
“We just felt like we needed to be physical,” Hill said. “They [Reagan] were all over the place defensively – looping, stunting, slanting, you know running guys from every angle. We needed to zone block and be physical in order to combat that because some of our other schemes were being a little bit frustrated by it.”
The night began well for the visiting Rangers, who notched the game’s first score after a great play by safety Ryan Wood to set up the SV touchdown.
Wood came over the top on a long pass from Reagan quarterback Derrick Walls and plucked the ball out of the air before returning it all the way down to the Rattlers’ 10 yard line.
Three plays later, David Pawelek dropped back to pass and was able to buy some time by scrambling out of the pocket, finding tight end Chris Mueller wide open in the back of the end zone for a five yard score.
David Pawelek throws the ball after faking a hand-off to Trent Rios (22).
It didn’t take Reagan long to respond, as Walls atoned for his interception by finding receiver Taylor Morris wide open for a 45 yard score. It was the first of several long catches for Morris, who was aided by the fact that SV starting cornerback Hayden Hughes did not play due to injury.
Smithson Valley took the lead back on their next drive, which featured a 56 yard pass from Pawelek to Chandler Hill, who managed to get behind the Rattler secondary. Rios punched it in later on a seven yard run, but his counterpart, Reagan’s Marcus Wright, wasn’t about to let Rios steal the show.
Wright showed his big-play ability and breakaway speed on the game’s next score, a 77 yard run that once again tied the game. All tolled, the highly touted Wright had 220 yards and three touchdowns in the game, but Smithson Valley was also able to stop him in some crucial situtations. They were determined not to let Wright beat them single-handedly.
With the score at 14-14, the Rangers and Rattlers would then exchange another touchdown apiece in the second quarter.
Smithson Valley’s came thanks to a personal foul by Reagan that kept their drive alive. After the penalty yardage was marked off, Cody Renken wasted no time making the Rattlers pay – catching a short pass, spinning out of a tackle and tight-roping his way down the sideline for a 31 yard touchdown.
Reagan used a 55 yard pass play to Morris to set up their rebuttal, which was run in by Wright from a yard out. This made the score 21-21, but it would prove to be the last time that the game would be all square. The Rangers used good clock management at the end of the second quarter (and a little help from another Rattler penalty) to add a 32 yard field goal from Taylor Cowart as the first half clock expired. This late field goal, coupled with a fumble recovery on the second half kick-off helped turn the tide, as special teams showed up big for Smithson Valley all night.
“Yeah, that little stretch there – 18 seconds before the half and then about 45 seconds into the second half, that’s not much time off the clock, but that’s a 10-point swing,” Hill said.
The untimely Reagan fumble was converted into the fourth SV touchdown of the night on a direct snap to Rios, who started to his right before stopping on a dime and cutting back to the left, going untouched for a 22 yard score. Clearly, the momentum had swung the Rangers’ way.
Rios had a rock-solid night for SV, rushing the ball 26 times for 170 yards and three touchdowns. Pawelek was efficient, and most importantly, careful with the football, completing 15 of his 20 pass attempts for 187 yards and three scores, with no interceptions. Once again, Renken was the Rangers’ leading receiver, with eight catches for 93 yards and two scores, but Hill was able to get open as well, with 71 yards on three receptions.
Reagan’s hopes of a comeback behind the running of Wright were snuffed out on the first play of the fourth quarter, as Wright took the snap on a fourth and two in an empty backfield, but was stopped short on the first down marker.
From there, the Rangers cashed in behind their power running game, as the offensive line paved the way down to the Rattlers’ 12 yard line. Pawelek hit Renken on another short route, and the receiver once again beat the defense to the corner to make the score 38-21.
Center James Fry shows his solid technique in pass protection.
Reagan answered with another one yard touchdown run by Wright, but the extra point was blocked by Jeff Cervantes and returned for two points by Ben Woodchick. Then, on the ensuing SV possession, the Rangers pounded the football on seven straight plays, which eventually led to an 18 yard touchdown
run from Rios to cap the game’s scoring.
That was the theme of the second half for the Rattlers – if they did something good, it was usually followed by something not so good. The Rangers, on the other hand, were the model of consistency, remaining on an even-keel regardless of the outcome of the previous play. This attitude reflects that of their head coach, who obviously had his team prepared to play last Thursday, but is in no way satisfied as of yet.
“We’ve got a lot of improvement to do,” Hill said. “We don’t feel like we’ve peaked yet, and I don’t mean that to sound anything other than what it is. We still like to think our best football is ahead of us, and we want it to be, but we’re real proud of what we did tonight.”
While the Rangers are officially in the playoffs, Coach Hill and his team know that this is no time to get ahead of themselves. When asked about whether or not he was expecting a meeting with Austin High in the first round of the playoffs, Hill responded, “I don’t know, we’ve got Judson in eight days, and that’s all I’m expecting.”
That match-up against the Rockets on Friday will be the last regular season game in front of the home crowd for Smithson Valley’s seniors, with kick-off slated for 7:30 p.m. at Ranger Stadium.