JONES — Some folks thought Blanchard hadn't really been tested on its way to a 6-0 start this football season. If that's the case, the Lions certainly passed their first exam on a humid Friday night at Jones.
Braden Stringer rushed for 118 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries and Stephan Davis returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown, allowing Class 3A No. 5-ranked Blanchard to escape with a 28-25 win over Jones in a key District 3A-1 battle.
The Lions overcame a remarkable performance by Jones' Randal Case, who caught nine passes for 261 yards, including a 90-yard touchdown grab. Jones running back Taylor Bilyeu also scored three touchdowns.
Jones' 6-foot-5 junior quarterback, David Cornwell, completed 16-of-37 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns but threw three interceptions — one more than he'd thrown in the Longhorns' first six games combined — and one of those picks was returned by Blanchard's Tanner Foster for a touchdown.
Another big difference: Blanchard (7-0, 4-0) went 4-for-4 on conversion attempts after touchdowns while Jones (5-2, 2-1) went just 1-for-4 thanks to a bad snap, a fumble on a 2-point try and a missed kick.
“It was a big gut-check for us,” Blanchard coach Jeff Craig said. “Guys were going down and both teams were just slugging it out and almost exhausted. You've just got to go down there and find that little extra something. It may be one play here or there, but you've got to find it. Fortunately for us, we found one more play.”
Blanchard took a 28-18 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter on Stringer's second touchdown, a 6-yard run. The Lions looked like they had the game wrapped up when they stopped Jones on downs at the Blanchard 17 with 3:22 left, but they couldn't record a first down and punted.
Case picked up the bouncing ball after the kick and returned it to the Blanchard 18, setting up a 4-yard touchdown run by Bilyeu with 1:07 left. Foster recovered the ensuing onside kick and the Lions ran out the clock.
Zach Hill led Blanchard receivers with five catches for 112 yards. Quarterback Brock Lamle completed 12-of-23 passes for 142 yards.
Early on, the game looked like it would be a Blanchard runaway. The Lions reached the Jones 34 on the game's first possession before penalties torpedoed that drive, but on Jones' first offensive play, Foster picked off a sidearmed pass by Cornwell and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown.
Jones went three-and-out and Blanchard needed only five plays on a 51-yard touchdown drive, with Stringer scooting 27 yards on a draw play for the score that put the Lions up 14-0 with 6:49 still left in the first quarter.
The Longhorns answered with a 13-play scoring drive, converting twice on third down and once on fourth down along the way. Cornwell hit Bilyeu on a 3-yard touchdown pass with 1:47 left in the first quarter. A bad snap foiled the conversion attempt, leaving the score 14-6.
Jones reached the Blanchard 21 in the final minute of the first half, but Kyle Self intercepted Cornwell at the Lions' 15 to end the threat.
Jones scored on the opening drive of the second half on a 1-yard run by Bilyeu. Davis answered with his kick return for a score, but two plays after getting the ball back, Cornwell connected with Case, who juked and shook defenders before cutting back into the clear on his 90-yard score that pulled the Longhorns within 21-18.
“We knew this was going to be a dogfight,” Craig said. “We hung in there and battled through some adversity. You've got to credit both teams for handling the ups and downs and highs and the lows.”