The Stephenson-Martin Luther King matchup looked like it was going to be a classic early on. But an injury to MLK senior quarterback Jacobi Haynes in the first quarter took the air out of the Lions' offense and out of the game.
In the end, unranked Stephenson (4-1, 2-1 in Region 4AAAAAA) rolled to a 35-0 win over No. 10 MLK, handing the Lions (4-1, 2-1) their first loss of the season. Football is the ultimate team game, but Haynes going out of the game was huge.
After Stephenson went up 7-0 midway through the first quarter on a 7-yard run by senior running back Ryan Ingram, MLK went on offense and moved inside Jaguar territory, with Haynes and senior Michael Fearn doing a lot of the damage.
But a bad shotgun snap got past Haynes, and his leg bent awkwardly while attempting to recover the ball. He went out and did not return. After the game, head coach Deante Lamar said he did not yet know the extent of Haynes' injury, though he did remain on the sideline for the rest of the contest.
Losing Haynes essentially cancelled MLK's offense, especially against one of the most stingy defenses in the state. Haynes had accounted for 76 percent of the Lions' offensive production – 715 yards rushing, 472 yards passing and nine total touchdowns – while Stephenson had allowed an average of 10.8 points per game.
"It was certainly a shock for us," said Lamar, who has led the Lions to an impressive start after the team went 1-9 last season. "We're more than one player, but he's our guy. When a guy like that goes down, everybody starts looking around wondering who's going to step up."
Stephenson smelled blood and went for the jugular. Jaguar head coach Ron Gartrell said the game plan on defense was to contain MLK's speed, while pounding the ball on offense.
"We've been in a lot of big games and so we know how to prepare," Gartrell said. "We did a good job of executing our game plan and sticking to it. I don't think our coaches had to remind our kids that they had to stay focused and keep playing hard even after their quarterback went out.
"We got off to a good start, and stayed with it," Gartrell said. "Our backs ran hard and our defense played well."
With Haynes on the sideline, MLK's best option on offense was to move Fearn to quarterback and run out of the wildcat formation. But without much threat of the pass, the Lions' couldn't mount enough of an offensive threat to keep the ball away from the Jaguars' power run game.
As a result, Stephenson scored 21 points in the second quarter, to essentially put the game away. Early in the period, Deondre Jackson scored on a 3-yard run to give Stephenson a 14-0 lead. Then, after MLK turned the ball over inside the Jaguars' 20-yard line, ending the Lions' best scoring opportunity of the night, Quashaun Johnson ran 52 yards for a touchdown to push the lead to 21-0 midway through the second quarter. Jackson's 31-yard touchdown run with a little more than 3 minutes left made the score 28-0 at the half. Ingram ended the scoring with a 7-yard run late in the third quarter, as Emmanual Rios made good on all five of his point-after kicks.
"We are going to see what we're made of," Lamar said of his team. "I think we will be alright. [Haynes] is a dynamic piece of our team, no question. But we have a lot of talented kids and so we'll get them ready to go next week."
As for Stephenson, Gartrell said he likes where his team is right now. An upset loss at the hands of Mt. Zion-Jonesboro (14-9) in the third game of the season got the Jaguars' attention. In three previous meetings, Stephenson had outscored Mt. Zion 105-2.
"It was probably the best thing to happen to us," Gartrell said. "It taught us that you have to prepare every week. We always have a big target on our chest, and so we have to prepare well for every game we play. We had our best week of practice this week, and so I think we've learned a valuable lesson."
© 2019 Cox Media Group.