MIDLOTHIAN — The final words Jaguar Head Coach Lee Wiginton said to his team before breaking them out of Friday night's post-game huddle were, "Enjoy where you are, but understand where you're going."
Though where they're bound may be unknown, where they are is in the driver's seat after beating Sanger High School.
Midlothian Heritage High School's 45-19 statement win Friday night at MISD Multipurpose Stadium made them only the second team — besides Denton High School — to score more than seven points against the Indians this season.
"It was the best defense we've faced this year and for a while, it was a dogfight," Wiginton said with a wry smile, his sharp eyes darting between celebrating players on the sideline and the MHHS Band performing its Homecoming victory march on the field. "They are an incredibly well-coached football team. It all came down to our defense creating some phenomenal turnovers. It was a really good football game and both teams were grinding. We were able to get one punched in, get some big picks and swing it in our favor."
The 26-point margin of victory, too, was strange given the way the game began. Despite a junior running back Nathan Gaskamp-recovered fumble in the end zone that gave MHHS its first touchdown, the score was 7-0 through the first 16 minutes.
The two teams produced only 240 total yards during that time frame.
During the last eight minutes — courtesy of a 21-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Landon Ledbetter to Gaskamp and sophomore defensive back Brayden Wright's second interception of the half that lead to Jorden Thompson's end zone scamper — the Jaguars scored twice and gained 98 yards.
Those drives featured double-digit-yard runs by Thompson and Raja Banks — including a three-yard score by the former. A defense led by John Sanders (11 Tackles, 3 Tackles for Loss), Preston Smith (7 Tks, 1 TFL) and Wright (6 Tks, 3 INTs), however, helped keep the Indians scoreless through 24 minutes.
It also buoyed a Jaguars' offense that stumbled out of the gate after halftime.
"Going up 28-0 early in the second half is tough to overcome, so we felt like we had a chance to go out there and really make a statement," Wiginton said about his team's mindset entering the final 24 minutes of play. "When you don't handle it well the first play, [fumble the ball] and they recover it at the 10-yard line, it's disappointing."
The Indians scored two of their three touchdowns on consecutive drives — a CJ Jackson (16/26, 89 yds 1 TD, 2 INT) to Braven Smith (7 rec, 58, 1 TD) three-yard pass and a Dameon Moser 8-yard run through the middle of Jaguar defense that capped a seven play, 77-yard drive.
The tide, however, turned back in the Jaguars favor after the team's offense turned Sanger's third turnover of the game — a third quarter Moser fumble at the Heritage 12-yard line — into a Kerion Fields' 69-yard touchdown catch.
Fields finished with 176 total yards (119 receiving, 57 rushing) and one touchdown. Ledbetter threw 217 yds and 3 TD on 13-for-24 passing and Gaskamp rushed 16 times for 92 yards, caught one pass for 21 yards and scored two touchdowns.
"I think everybody knew we were a new team and wanted to come and play us because they thought they could beat us," he continued. "They thought it was going to be easy because it was our first year of varsity. It's not. I don't think people realize how hard we work and how much love we have for each other. It shows on the scoreboard. We're probably still underrated, but that's OK. We're coming for everybody."
The team might not know what story history will write when district opens, but the Jaguars can read the writing carved on the walls of the 4A class during a four-game winning streak, Wright said.
Headlines from Friday's matchup may read, "Sloppy Sanger falls on road" or "turnovers and uncharacteristic defense dooms Sanger in lopsided loss," the fact that Midlothian Heritage knocked off a team that beat a Denton team undefeated in UIL's 5A class puts the magnitude of the win in perspective.
"Though we got better tonight, we've got a long way to go," Wiginton said. "You could go 4-1 in non-district and roll into district and go 0-5 and you're sitting at home with a terrible season. [Non-district] wins are feel-good — smile a little bit more and frown a little bit less. That and finding out what we're good at, what we struggle with and who we are is what those five games were about.
"It's not like college, where there's a national ranking or poll that gets you into the postseason. It's all about district play. The 'fluff' is over and now were to the meat-and-bones of the season."
Though the proverbial record slate is wiped clean when district play begins, it's important to remember how the Jaguars have played during non-district. Midlothian Heritage has scored less than 45 points only once in the last five weeks and limited its opponents to 35 points per game in 2016 and 25 points in the last two games.
When Midlothian Heritage opens district play against Dallas Pinkston High School at 7 p.m. on Oct. 6 at Sprague Stadium, the Jaguars will take a week of rest and the momentum of a four-game streak against a Vikings team still winless in 2016.