Watching the Cedar Hill 52-49 triple overtime thriller over Plano West Thursday night brought back a memory from the 1997 college football season: Charles Woodson's classic quote, "Big time players make big time plays in big time games." From start to finish, the big time players in Thursday night's contest made big time plays in a big time first round game.
Plano West came out of the gates calm and collected, executing with precision on the offensive end. The Wolves found continuous success on inside zone running plays. Senior running back Darrius Cohen scored on three first half runs, including a pair of 37-yarders up the gut of the Longhorns defense.
While the offense was executing at a high rate the opening 24-minutes, the highlight reel of plays put together in the first half by junior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat stole the show.
The 6-4, 230-pound dominant force made big play after big play, going up against two of the top offensive line prospects in the state of Texas in Cedar Hill junior guard Adam Shead and future Texas Longhorn Thomas Ashcraft.
Jeffcoat got the defensive half started with a bang for the Wolves, stuffing an inside zone play with a tackle for loss on the first series. That was followed by a tackle for loss on a fourth down running play to halt the Cedar Hill drive.
On the following series, Jeffcoat registered his first sack of the night, an inside shade on Ashcraft. Longhorns' 6-3, 285-pound junior guard Adam Shead attempted to pick up Jeffcoat in pass protection, but the quick-footed defensive end simply gave him an inside move followed by a very quick swim move, resulting in Cedar Hill sophomore quarterback Driphus Jackson taking a blind side hit for an eight-yard loss.
Two series, three tackles, two tackles for loss, and a sack.
For Cedar Hill on defense, junior outside linebacker Aaron Benson flashed why he is highly sought. The 6-1, 207-pound sturdily built defender made three tackles in a row on Plano West's opening drive. On two occasions, Benson showed the ability to change direction and turn and run, keeping inside zone runs from going the distance.
On the Plano West opening drive, Jeffcoat entered the game inside the 10 yard line and helped pave the way for the first touchdown of the night, a four yard scamper bu Cohen. Jeffcoat continued his dominance on defense, recording eight first half tackles, four tackles for loss, and a sack in the first half.
While the Longhorns were limited in their offensive success in the opening half, future Texas Longhorn Thomas Ashcraft locked up with Jeffcoat in straight ahead running plays and more than held his own on a few occasions. Ashcraft locked on to Jeffcoat using his long arms, kept the feet moving and did a terrific job of turning the talented defensive end inside to allow junior running back Ben Malena (5-8, 192-pounds) the ability to bounce the zone play to the outside and scoot into the second level outside the hash marks.
Cedar Hill finally moved the ball into the red zone with about a minute to go in the half, but failed to score after running three successive running plays without a timeout available to stop the clock. Running a stretch play with 19-seconds remaining and gaining three yards to the two yard line, the clock ran out before the Longhorns could line up and attempt a fourth down play.
Plano West led a shocked Cedar Hill team 21-0, running off the field with a series of chest bumps and enough taunting to get the Longhorns players and coaches fired up as they walked off the field.
If Cedar Hill was fired up with a sense of urgency coming out of the locker room to start the second half, it didn't show on the first series of the third quarter. Plano West scored on a Cohen 24-yard inside zone play after a 65-yard run two plays before by the senior back that finished the night with 276 yards on 22 carries.
The Plano West faithful were on their feet, high fives heard slapping right and left. And then the momentum changed in the blink of an eye.
The Longhorns first scored on a 20-yard pass from Jackson to Malena and followed with three more touchdowns in an eight-minute period to tie the game at 28-28 heading into the fourth quarter.
Leading the way for the Longhorns was Ashcraft, who executed some impressive blocks pulling in space. Yet to have a seam to hit and accelerate into the secondary all night, Malena finally got his chance late in the third quarter, zipping down the sideline for a 63-yard scoring run. That was the third straight Malena score during the 28-point scoring explosion to end the third quarter. He finished the contest with 231 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 38 carries.
After the long run, the Longhorns blocked a Plano West punt and followed with a quick strike 39-yard touchdown pass.
The Longhorns took the lead for the first time early in the final quarter when Malena danced in the hole, cut laterally and extended into the end zone on a three-yard scoring run. Junior kicker Eduardo Camara drilled the extra point, as he has since his freshman year on the 5A state championship team and Cedar Hill took a 35-28 lead.
The scoring action slowed for the following few minutes, but the big plays did not as Jeffcoat registered a few stops and Benson did the same for Cedar Hill.
Plano West scored on a seven yard run by quarterback Travis Wilson to tie the game with 1:13 remaining.
Cedar Hill secured the bouncing kick off shortly after and looked to make a winning drive, but Jackson was picked off along the Plano West sidelines. The Wolves ran the ball three times in a row to set up a game winning 29-yard field goal attempt, but the kick was pulled, sending the game into overtime.
It was back and forth in overtime. West scored first, followed by a Cedar Hill 39-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Laquan Harper on fourth-and-24 with the season on the line.
Cedar Hill then scored to take a 42-35 lead that quickly evaporated as Plano West tossed a 25-yard scoring strike on their first play of the second overtime. As the third overtime began, the crowd appeared tired from the constant emotional swings. The players had their hands on their hips, and even a referee appeared to be exhausted.
After Cedar Hill stopped West on a fourth-and-12, they ran the ball to set up a game-winning field goal. Camara came through, as he has for three years, with a 22-yarder to send Cedar Hill to the second round of the playoffs.
The junior, who will be one of the top recruits in the country in the 2010 class, put together as dominating defensive performance as one will see. Whether it be shucking an opposing lineman and engulfing the ball carrier, using an outside step followed by a quick and powerful inside rip move or an inside fake followed by a fast hand swim move, the elite level talent dominated the game from start to finish.
Jeffcoat, who has been nursing a back injury for the last half of the season, registered double digit tackles, a handful of tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. The injury did show up at times, as Jeffcoat played higher than usual and struggled on a few occasions turning to run and pushing through the ground to create acceleration.
When one considers the performance combined with the lower back injury, it was the type of effort that makes ones legend grow.
Ashcraft played very well in the run game. The 6-4.5, 300-pounder played with active feet, strong hands and used his long arms to control the opponent and stay locked on for three and four seconds at times. He showed the ability to get out of his stance, move the feet quickly and pull. When Cedar Hill had success in the run game, one could usually see #75 leading making the key block.
In pass protection, the future Longhorn did struggle against Jeffcoat on the two occasions they went one on one as he gave up the outside swim move and sack on one play and then a similar play on a second in which Jeffcoat hit quarterback Driphus Jackson right after the release of the ball.
Benson showed why programs such as LSU have offered and why Texas will offer. The 6-1, 207-pound well proportioned outside backer showed the ability to change direction and turn and run on numerous occasions. While he didn't break down in space at times in the first half, he played with maximum effort and showed the ability to diagnose plays as well as make the big hit on downhill plays near the line of scrimmage.
The cousin of former Texas Longhorn Cedric Benson intercepted a pass in the first half and made a handful of tackles for loss or no gain in the second half. All told, the fleet of foot junior registered double digit tackles.