Trojans withstand Knight comeback to claim COVID-19th Taco Shack, all-time series lead

Resilient McCallum shuts out Anderson for three quarters, but can’t overcome another lackluster first quarter

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Risa Darlington-Horta

Sophomore J.D. Jordan catches his first varsity touchdown and Mac’s only trip to the end zone against the Anderson Trojans in the third quarter of the 19th annual Taco Shack Bowl.

Grace Nugent, sports editor

Despite the fact that he caught his first varsity touchdown pass, sophomore JD Jordan’s varsity football debut was less than ideal.

And not because each team only had about 250 fans or because there was no halftime show or because everyone in the stands and the sidelines had to wear facial masks … all due to the pandemic that delayed the season-opening football game by more than a month.

Coming from playing defense, it was nice to just take that ball down the field.”

— junior Jake Hissey on his first-quarter kick return into Anderson territory

No, the game was a downer because the Knights lost, 14 – 7 to their arch-rivals to the north, the Anderson Trojans, in the (COVID)-19th annual Taco Shack Bowl.

Anderson’s scores both came within the first seven minutes of the game. With just over 10 minutes left in the first quarter, junior Colin Page ran 43 yards to the house after receiving a pitch from quarterback Fred Dale. Three minutes later, he again found the end zone, this time from 36 yards out, on a similar play with 7:16 left in the quarter.

After Anderson compiled 133 yards of offense in the first quarter alone, the McCallum defense stiffened, limiting the Trojans to just 99 yards of total offense for the remaining three quarters and more importantly held Trojans scoreless the rest of the game. The Trojans did not even get in field-goal range after the torrid start.

The Knights depended on the run early in the game with the biggest gains coming on runs from senior running back Andres Rodriguez and kick returns from junior defensive backs and special teamers Jake Hissey and Wyatt Cunningham.

“Coming from playing defense it was nice to just take that ball down the field” Hissey said. “I wanted to have a kick return to touchdown in this Taco Shack game … and I thought I was homeward bound then I saw their kicker and my heart dropped.”

Despite Ez Gunther’s full lay out for a touchdown-saving tackle, Anderson running back Colin Page was able to finish this 43-yard run by finding the end zone for the first score of the game. (Dave Winter)

Not only did Hissey help the offensive gain field position but the young safety proved himself on the defensive side of the ball  recovering a fumble in Anderson territory near the end of the third quarter.

While the Knight defense repelled the Trojan offense, the McCallum offense was met with the same defensive fervor. With the exception of Jordan’s touchdown catch, the offense struggled with consistency and was only able to make to the red zone a few times. Near the end of the first quarter, they were stopped on fourth-down and goal inside the 5-yard line.

For the game, McCallum amassed a total of 257 yards of total offense, 104 through the air and 153 on the ground. The run game was featured in the first half but after halftime, pass plays and quarterback scrambles become the primary means to move the ball down the field.  The team struggled on third down, converting only one in three third-down plays for first downs, and two second-half interceptions proved decisive in the game’s outcome.

[The touchdown] was a high point for me and for the team … but there are lots of ways we can improve.”

— sophomore wide receiver JD Jordan

“Offense was driving down the field consistently,” senior cornerback and captain Jake Allison said. The offensive rhythm was “a lot better than last season, but we really just need to keep on working.”

Jordan agrees but believes that the offense must clean up the mistakes, capitalize in the red zone and convert on third down.

The sole Knight touchdown came with eight minutes left in the third on a 17-yard pass from junior quarterback Jaxon Rosales to Jordan, bringing the Knights within a touchdown of the Trojans.

“It was really exciting [catching the sole Mac touchdown] but there are lots of ways we can improve,” Jordan said. “I know it was a high point for me and for the team. I just am going to work hard, try to score more touchdowns and hopefully win some games with my team.”

Unlike last year’s Taco Shack Bowl, the Knights had an excellent chance to win the game. Down seven with under two minutes remaining and the clock ticking, the Knights advanced the ball into scoring range. On a fourth-down play, Rosales launched a bomb into the hands of junior wideout Major Faught for a 47-yard completion that brought the Knights inside the Anderson 30. With 20 seconds remaining, however, Anderson safety Cole Canaday intercepted a Rosales pass in the end zone to seal the victory for the Trojans.

While the ending was sour, there were many positives to build upon. The special teams performance was first rate. The punt coverage team downed a punt by sophomore flex player Miles McCollum on the Trojan 1-yard line, the second time the Trojans were pinned inside the 5 by the punt team. The special teams unit also created two 20-plus yard kick returns from Hissey and Cunningham.

Praise for the Knights performance came from both sidelines.

“They lack some numbers, and they play both ways, but they’re touch as heck,” Anderson coach Daniel Hunter told Thomas Jones of the Statesman after the game. “I think they may have the best defensive line in all of Central Texas. They have four really, really good defensive linemen. Once they got rolling, they were pretty good.”

McCallum head coach Thomas Gammerdinger believed that giving up 14 points in the first six minutes was sloppy but he commended his players on competing even when they were down and never giving up on the game.

The team has a bye next week and will play Thursday Oct. 15 against Marble Falls at House Park.

“We’re just gonna work on keeping our practice habits up,” Allison said. “Working on getting every little thing, every little detail right so that in two weeks we can go up against Marble Falls and beat them.”