WILLIS — The Willis Wildkats did two important things with their 44-28 win over Grand Oaks in District 13-6A play Friday night.
The triumph at Berton A. Yates Stadium was the first of the season for Willis (1-7, 1-3), which has played one of the strongest schedules in the area. It also put playoff destiny in the Wildkats’ hands. With a win at Conroe next Saturday at 4 p.m., Willis would clinch its first trip to the postseason since 2016.
“We’ve been playing for the playoffs and even like two weeks ago, we told the guys that,” coach Michael Wall said. “The guys have never given up all season and kept fighting and kept fighting. We came out on the good end tonight and I’m super proud of the guys.”
If the Wildkats top Conroe next week, they would hold head-to-head tiebreakers over the Tigers (3-4, 0-3) and Grizzlies (5-3, 1-3) if the teams end with the same record. Conroe is at The Woodlands this week on Saturday.
“We control our destiny and what better way would you want it?” Wall said. “We don’t have to rely on anyone else and it’s all in our hands.”
Grand Oaks received the opening kick of the game but fumbled an exchange on its first play. David Soriano recovered it and the Wildkats capitalized immediately with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Steele Bardwell to Kory Ford.
“First of all, credit to (Willis),” Grizzlies coach Mike Jackson said. “They won this game. I just felt like from the first play when we fumbled the handoff … we’ve been in the plus category in turnover ratio all year and from the first hand off, we put the ball on the ground. You just can’t do those things.”
The Grizzlies later had a drive that traveled 94 yards and lasted 16 plays and over eight minutes of game time. The effort ended in a Willis touchdown as the Wildkats blocked a field goal attempt that followed a Grand Oaks personal foul inside the 5-yard line. Tallas Harrison scooped up the ball and scored 74 yards later.
Seth Wright scored on a 50-yard touchdown pass from Hudson Hamilton on the second quarter’s second play to get Grand Oaks on the board. The next Wildkats drive, a 9-play effort, ended with a touchdown option run from Bardwell.
A 5-play, 55-yard drive by Willis ended with another touchdown pass from Bardwell to Ford. The 8-yard toss made it 28-7 Wildkats with 5:21 to play in the half. Brandon High, who topped 100 yards in the first half, scored on a 57-yard rush a few minutes later to cut into the lead.
High finished with 156 yards on 19 carries. Micah Cooper, who topped 1,000 yards on the season in the game, had 118 yards on 15 carries. Sean Zver had 84 yards on eight carries.
“Micah’s done a wonderful job from where he started and Brandon’s going to be really good,” Jackson said. “I thought Sean came in and did a really good job. We’ve just got to do a better job of putting it all together. Those kids played really hard tonight, but tonight wasn’t our night.”
With 12 seconds to go in the half, Christian Pavon boomed a 50-yard kick through the uprights to give the hosts a 31-14 halftime edge.
Grand Oaks forced a pair of turnovers early in the second half with David Bush recovering a fumble and David Wilkins intercepting pass. Both times, Willis’ defense kept the Grizzlies from capitalizing.
“Couldn’t capitalize,” Jackson said. “At halftime, we told the kids against Conroe, we had no takeaways at the half, then we had three in the second half and it was big for us. That was the message to the defense — let’s get some takeaways. We didn’t capitalize. It’s a learning process and you would hope we’d be a little further ahead in the curve, but it is what it is. It’s hard to win high school football games in Texas. Credit to Willis. We have to come back and get better.”
Later in the quarter, the Wildkats extended their lead with a 26-yard touchdown pass from Bardwell to Ja’Kobe McCoy.
Bardwell completed 14 of 22 passes for 207 yards, three touchdowns and interception. His top target was Jamarious Wells, who had eight catches for 117 yards. McCoy caught four passes for 57 yards, and Ford caught three for 39 yards. Johnny McHenry led the way on the ground with 131 yards on 17 carries.
In the fourth quarter, Grand Oaks marched 75 yards on just four plays. A 42-yard rush from Cooper was followed by an 18-yard score from Zver with 8:51 to play. That cut the lead to 37-21.
With senior Emilee Buhl at quarterback, McHenry scored on a 9-yard run with 4:51 to play.
“She shows up to practice every single day and she hasn’t played a snap,” Wall said of Buhl, a senior. “For her to get in and go do her thing and understand what we’re trying to do — I’m so proud of her.”
The Grizzlies added one more score late, an 11-yard run from James Holmon.
Grand Oaks takes on Oak Ridge at 2 p.m. Friday in a District 13-6A doubleheader at Woodforest Bank Stadium that will be followed by The Woodlands and College Park.