COLLEGE STATION — Midlothian Heritage's Jaguars rebounded from a 1-2 start to the adidas 7-on-7 football tournament at Veteran's Park and Athletic Complex by beating five teams en route to a consolidation championship.
The road to becoming the third best team in Division II was filled with bumps and bruises and learning lessons for that may be valuable when the same players don helmets and pads.
"Y'all put a lot of building blocks up for next year out here today," said Ron King, the Midlothian Heritage High School head 7-on-7 football coach, his a gruff voice cracking as he spoke to his players in the final huddle. "I'm proud of every one of y'all, especially the way you fought after struggling yesterday. The offense struggled but everyone came together. That's what this game is all about."
Day one's end may have been a minor shock given how dominantly the Jaguars entered the tournament. Not only were they one of the favorites, but they also cemented their position in the state tournament after rumbling through the summer football season.
On May 20, Midlothian Heritage claimed a state championship bid after beating Mabank High School 41-0 — the program’s one and only shut out in a decade’s stretch — in game one, Dublin High School 67-6 in game two, Greenville 55-20 in game three and Whitney 33-27 in the game four qualifiers.
Though Pool C's No. 1 seeded team stumbled against Somerset and Wimberley High Schools, a momentous rally was in store less than 12 hours later.
"I think the fact that we didn't play to our best yesterday and the fact that we knew we were one of the favorites that didn't make the championship bracket lit a fire under them," said Jay Lattimore, the Midlothian Heritage High School assistant head 7-on-7 football coach. "This team hates to lose and they have character. To go through five games after losing two a day before shows a lot of it. I think they'll take that into the season — the knowledge that if they're down and have a couple of things that don't go right, they can persevere, fight through and be the team everyone knows they can be."
When the sun rose on the second day of the tournament, he said the Jaguars had a whole new game face and purpose.
Midlothian Heritage sped past Celina High School in round one with a 40-21 victory and then edged Shepherd High School 26-20 in round No. 2. Against both Sweeney High School, a 31-12 blowout victory, and Sweetwater High School in the third and fourth rounds, though, the Jaguar offense seemingly put all of its offensive cards on the table.
One of those aces was a toss up corner route turned into a one-handed grab highlight reel by Dre Washington. On a crucial third down play and only a dozen feet away from pay dirt, junior quarterback Landon Ledbetter spun a back shoulder thrown toward the corner of the end zone.
Like a skilled acrobat, Washington spun towards the ball locked it in his right hand — à la NFL wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. — and tiptoed in for as score.
The momentum of the 44-34 victory against Sweetwater's Mustangs catapulted into the fifth and final round and a breezy 33-14 win against Stephenville High School.
"I can't say how proud I am of you guys. Y'all got after it today," King said to his players after the game and before releasing them to the grind of 2-a-days, padded practices and the new football season. "The lessons you learned this weekend will carry over into the season. Play hard, stay together and remember you're family. That will take you far."
Marcus S. Marion, @MarcusMarionWNI