SPLENDORA — Splendora coach Marcus Schulz and his players understand they have targets on their backs this season. That comes with the territory of being a defending undefeated district champion. But that doesn’t bother the Wildcats one bit.
Splendora officially began its quest for a second consecutive District 11-4A (Div. I) title on Friday evening with a 48-15 victory over Livingston on a chilly night at Wildcat Stadium. It marked the third straight win for the Wildcats, who have four games remaining on their league slate. Splendora (4-1, 1-0) is aiming for its first back-to-back postseason appearances since 2007 and 2008.
“We knew Livingston was going to come out tough,” said Schulz, whose team beat the Lions 87-21 last season. “We knew that Coach (Finis) Vanover and their staff have done a tremendous job. We knew they were going to be better than they were last year, and we knew that program was on the rise. We just knew we had to come out and play our football If we played our football, we’d be OK. I’m a little disappointed how we came out the second half to start, but I can’t complain — 33-point victory, we’ll take it.”
Splendora entered the week with the No. 3 offense in the district in terms of total yardage at 366.8 per game. The Wildcats had no issues surpassing that mark against the Lions (2-4, 0-1) as they finished with more than 400 yards and tallied 48-plus points for the second consecutive week. Splendora also won by a large margin last time out with a 78-6 home triumph over Houston Kashmere.
The Wildcats got things rolling on their first drive of the game as quarterback Cody Thorndyke connected with Tyler Gamble for a 27-yard touchdown pass. Gamble had five catches for 123 yards in the first half alone as Splendora built a commanding lead.
Running back Andrew Hernandez took a screen pass 50 yards up the left sideline for a score later in the opening quarter, and two scoring runs from Zane Obregon — from 17 and 2 yards, respectively — in the second period put the Wildcats ahead 27-0 at the intermission. The Wildcats’ offense was efficient over the first two quarters, averaging more than eight yards per play.
The Splendora defense was lights out in the first half, limiting the Lions to just 70 yards on offense. The Wildcats also made a handful of fourth-down stops in their own territory, and cornerback Jagger Kennedy collected two interceptions. Splendora had just three picks through four games entering the night, so the turnovers were a welcome sight.
“The defense has been solid for us,” Schulz said. “The 15 (points) came late in the fourth (quarter), so we got the shutout for 3 ½ quarters. Our defense has really stepped up these last three weeks now, and we’ve been able to rely on them. We’ve got to continue to have great play out of them from here on out in the rest of district play.”
The defensive prowess continued in the third quarter as Hernandez returned an interception 86 yards for a touchdown. He then corralled another screen pass for an 11-yard score to reach paydirt for the third time and give the Wildcats a 41-0 advantage.
“I saw the wide receiver tip (the pass) and miss it, so I caught that thing and took off with it,” Hernandez said of his pick-6. “I saw my teammates blocking for me, and once I knew they were in front of me, I knew I was good.”
Livingston seemed poised to break up the shutout early in the fourth quarter, but the Splendora defense stood tall and stopped quarterback Damian Ruiz at the 1-yard line on fourth-and-goal. The Wildcats responded with a 99-yard drive on the ensuing possession, capped with a 21-yard touchdown pass from Thorndyke to Gamble. The senior receiver finished the game with six catches for 144 yards.
Obregon was the Wildcats’ leading rusher with 119 yards on just nine carries. Thorndyke completed 13 of 28 passes for 264 yards and four touchdowns.
“They’ve been playing together since they were little bitty,” Schulz said of Thorndyke and Gamble. “That’s been there forever, but I can tell you, Tyler made some catches tonight that ESPN needs to have on there — some of the one-handed grabs and going up. They definitely have a connection. They talk every day and communicate every day in practice, so it’s nice to see them connect.”
Livingston finally got on the board with about six minutes remaining as Ruiz scored on a 23-yard run. The Lions’ quarterback capped the scoring with two minutes to play on a 30-yard touchdown pass to Christian Washington. Ruiz finished the game with 251 yards of total offense.
Splendora returns to action at 7 p.m. next Friday at home against Little Cypress-Mauriceville. The Wildcats pulled out a 38-24 road victory against the Bears last season. Livingston will play host to Lumberton at the same time that night.