WACO, Texas - In a much-anticipated match up, the Waco Lions took down second-ranked and defending state champion Converse Judson last Friday night. Behind a good performance from a dinged up Marcus Walker and a host of underclassmen, Waco shut down the vaunted Judson offense in a 13-7 victory.
The game had all the makings of a classic at Waco ISD's beautiful stadium. Judson was out for revenge after a 28-20 loss at the hands of Waco a year ago in San Antonio, but Waco's defense denied Judson of the chance.
The Lions tried to take command early when they marched 52 yards on six plays and scored on a option keeper by junior quarterback Anthony Hicks from 23 yards out, but Judson used some stellar defense of their own to stay in the game.
Judson managed to hold Waco at bay for most of the game, and they did a nice job corralling star wide receiver Tory DeGrate. They held him to 2 catches for 20 yards.
It seemed as though the tables had turned when Judson's Brian Robinson caught a 37 yard touchdown in the second quarter. Judson had been threatening for most of the quarter, seeing two drives end in turnovers inside the Lion 20 yard line before cashing in.
Halftime came at a good time for Waco, and they came out for the second half re-inspired, advancing the ball 69 yards on two plays before penalties stalled their drive.
Waco continued to dominate the action in the second half, but the score remained 7-7 in the third quarter until Hicks hit wide receiver Dominique Thomas on a short slant that Thomas took 74 yards for the eventual game-winning score.
After that, the Waco defense took over. Judson had six more opportunities on offense, but got no closer than the Waco 34 the rest of the game.
THE SENIOR STUDS Cornerback Marcus Walker was outstanding the whole night despite playing through a slightly pulled groin.
Walker is the type that just looks the part. He was easily the most impressive physical player on the field; a true compliment with these two teams. He checks in at a solid 5'11, and has powerful legs that he uses to drive on the ball and jam receivers. Walker has room to grow in the upper body, and he could easily play at the 195 to 200-pound range in college.
The young cornerback didn't see much action Friday night. Judson went after him on the second play of the game, throwing vertically, and they almost paid dearly. Walker, in press coverage, had his man covered stride for stride and had perfect position, nearly coming up with an interception.
Walker had some thoughts on the game's second play.
"I wasn't too surprised by it," Walker said. "Teams usually try to test me once or twice early on. Normally it is a short curl or something to see if I can drive on the ball, and then I never see the ball to this side for the rest of the game."
"I almost had that interception. My groin was a little stiff, and I'm all wrapped up, and I was about a half step too slow. The ball went right off of my fingertips, but that's okay, because we won."
True to form, Walker did not see another pass for the duration of the game. However, there was plenty of action as Walker re-interpreted the "bump" part of "bump-and-run" coverage.
As the game wore on, Walker grew a little testy and a little bored. As the second half opened, Walker used his strength to dominate his man at the line of scrimmage. Walker could be seen jamming his man at the line, and riding him into the sidelines with a combination of strong hands and quick feet.
"Playing physically is what I learned from playing against Tory everyday," Walker said. "I learned that beating a wide receiver at the line helps you to be very successful. Physicality is a big part of my game."
Walker also showed his colors as a leader for the young, but talented Waco defense. In a tight game, the rest of the defense looked to him for leadership, and he made sure that they kept their focus.
"I just kept telling them that we had to stay focused, because Judson could score at any time. Last year's game was a lot like this, and I just kept telling them not to let down."
Receiver Tory DeGrate had a tough day on Friday. After lighting up Judson a year ago, it was clear that the Rockets were not going to let him have a repeat performance.
"They had a corner on him man to man with a linebacker underneath and a safety over the top for most of the game," said teammate Marcus Walker.
Even though DeGrate managed only two catches for 20 yards, he still managed to make his presence felt with his blocking, and his willingness to run his routes, clearing space for other receivers.
DeGrate showed the work ethic to block his man on running plays, using his body as an effective screen. On the game's biggest play, DeGrate leveled a Judson defender, springing Dominique Thomas for a 74 yard touchdown.
Overall, DeGrate was totally out of his game because of all the coverage thrown his way, but still managed to make an impact on the game. He was obviously a marked man, showing exactly what the Judson coaching staff thought of his abilities.
Athlete Chauncey Campbell, a 2,000-yard rusher from a year ago, was corralled for the most part in the first half by Waco's defense. He did manage 83 first half yards, but 72 of them came on a single play.
For the most part, Campbell found it tough sledding, but did show the kind of excitement that he could provide when he took a sweep around the left side for 72 yards.
Campbell showed great burst and good strength on the night. He is a shifty back that is tough to bring down. He is very short, but stocky, listed at 200-pounds. This makes him a bowling ball-like back in the open field.
Campbell was stopped in the second half by leg cramps, and his presence was missed. His big play ability was much needed by a struggling Judson offense that looked a little undermanned without their star player.
THE FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT The player of the game may well have been junior linebacker Shon Brown of Waco.
Listed at 6-foot 210-pounds, Brown looked a little smaller than advertised, but was a terror for the Waco lions. Brown made play after play on the night, appearing in the backfield on numerous occasions, causing one fumble, and chasing down plays to the sidelines.
Brown's linebacking cohort Tyson Felder is also a player to watch. Felder had a solid game, getting his hat in on a few plays. Felder, 5-foot-11 220, looks solid, and was in on some good stops.
At 6-foot-3 215-pounds, McDonald has the type of frame that could fill out nicely in the coming year. He also has the bloodlines, being the younger brother of Baylor's Lequalan McDonald
Junior free safety Rashad Johnson was listed at 5-foot-8 on the Waco roster, but he looked to be about 6-foot-1 standing above the rest of the defensive backs on the team. He made a number of tackles in run support against the bulldozing Judson offense.
The Judson junior with the hype coming in to the game was running back/defensive back Kyle Fox. However, if Campbell had not gone down with cramps, Fox might not have played at all outside of kick returns. Once he got his shot carrying the football, he showed good quickness and balance, though a swarming Waco defense gave him little room to operate. He is a name to watch, but at this point, largely a mystery.
Jusdon has some good-looking players, especially at wide receiver, though they were seldom used. The problem with many of their players is height, as most appeared shorter than their counterparts from Waco.