Blue and Gold bring home win: Indians defat rival Wildcats for the first time since 2014

by By Aaron Swink Contributing Sports Writer

Thanks to lightning in the area, the Jacksonville Fightin’ Indians had to wait about an hour longer than expected to kick off their rivalry game with the Palestine Wildcats at Rose Stadium on Friday.

The wait was worth it for the Blue and Gold, as they recorded their first win against the ‘Cats since 2014 and the first victory in the series for JHS head coach Wayne Coleman.

Jacksonville’s first drive stalled and forced an early Chris Carpenter punt, but the wet conditions played to the Indians’ favor, as the Palestine return man muffed the catch, surrendering possession to the Tribe right on the doorstep of the Wildcat endzone.

Indian tailback Aaron Richardson wasted little time, needing only two plays to cap off a four-yard scoring drive. The point-after attempt failed, but the Tribe held the early momentum in the 82nd meeting between the Highway 79 rivals.

The Indian defense, which would shine throughout the game, forced the Wildcats into a three-and-out on the visitors’ first possession. Junior quarterback Tristen Shewmake found sophomore Joydasion Thompson for an electrifying 46-yard scoring strike on the ensuing drive.

The score, Thompson’s first as a member of the JHS varsity, showed that Shewmake and company were not afraid of the passing attack despite the sloppy weather. The PAT by Jacksonville’s Andy Pineda was good.

Palestine would get on the board before the first quarter expired through a 27-yard pass to senior Tyler Gray. Gray, who has been a three-year starter for the Wildcats, had plagued the Indians the past three seasons from the quarterback position. With the PAT, the score stood at 13-7 after one quarter of play.

The teams would trade unsuccessful possessions through the first part of the second quarter, with the Indian defense coming up with a few impressive stops, including quarterback sacks by Laterris Castleberry and Bryson Tatum.

The game’s next score would come as the result of a poor snap with the Indians attempting to punt from their own endzone. Carpenter did well to corral the ball but was forced out of bounds for a safety.

The Wildcats would end the half with even more momentum by way of a solidly-struck 46-yard field goal as time expired. At the half, the game looked to be a nail-biter with the Indians clinging to a 13-12 advantage.

Any questions about the outcome of the game were quickly resolved in the third quarter as Jacksonville, powered by coordinator Kenny Canady’s defense, roared to life. Senior halfback T.J. Ratliffe would be first in on the action, however, as he bulldozed his way in from five yards out at the 8:27 mark of the third.

Alejandro Pina-Sanchez added the PAT to give the Tribe the 20-12 edge.

Jacksonville’s defense, which had gotten hot in the first half, went from simmer to burn on the next two Palestine possessions. Carpenter, the sure-handed receiver and defensive back hauled in an interception and took it all the way back for a touchdown.

Senior defensive lineman Steve Gallegos followed suit immediately, taking a Wildcat fumble 17 yards for a score to put an exclamation mark on the Indian “Dark Side” defense’s dominant performance. Pina-Sanchez converted both defensive scores, putting the Tribe in control at 34-12 with 3:21 left in the third quarter.

Far from rolling over in this heated rivalry contest, the Wildcats claimed the next two scores, with runs of 56 yards and five yards. Both PAT’s were good and the fight was back on with Jacksonville up 34-26.

The Indians, however, would find another gear when senior sensation and TCU commit Deshawn McCuin, with his right ankle taped from an earlier injury would come in at the quarterback position to take a direct snap 62 yards in the blink of an eye.

Despite a missed PAT, it was clear that Jacksonville was finally in the driver’s seat for good. Ratliffe left no doubt, barreling across the goal line from two yards out with 6:59 to play, Andy Pineda added the extra point to lock in the final margin of victory, 47-26 in favor of the Tribe.

Jacksonville’s offense, which struggled mightily against Class 4A’s top-ranked Carthage in Week 1, fared much better in the friendly confines of their “home away from home” in Tyler, tallying 297 yards on 53 plays. Shewmake was 6-16 through the air for 96 yards and the score to Thompson with no interceptions. McCuin led the Indian rushing attack yardage-wise with 97 yards and the score, while Ratliffe chipped in 84 yards and two touchdowns. McCuin also excited fans with his kick returns, toting twice for 112 yards.
Despite the wet field conditions throughout most of the game, the Tribe did not suffer a turnover while claiming three of their own: two interceptions and a fumble. Keilyn Miles, Tatum, and Castleberry nabbed sacks for Jacksonville.

Next on the schedule for Jacksonville is another old regional foe: the Henderson Lions.

The Lions will bring a 0-2 record into their home opener at Lion Stadium on Friday, with losses to JHS district mates Whitehouse, as well as Pleasant Grove.