By Greg Riddle
The Dallas Morning News
Friday night was a time to play football, not protest, on the opening day of games for Dallas-area teams.
Midlothian Heritage players locked arms as they entered the field, and they walked to the far end zone and briefly knelt. But that wasn’t a sign of protest.
"That was just a prayer, to make sure we get right for the game," Heritage senior quarterback Daelin Rader said.
Protests in professional sports dominated the headlines this week, especially in the NBA, where three days of playoff games were postponed when players chose not to play after Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot seven times in the back by police in Kenosha, Wis. There was no protesting police brutality and racial injustice at Midlothian ISD’s stadium, as players from Heritage and Wichita Falls Hirschi stood for the national anthem and then took their positions for the opening kickoff.
"We just thought it was too controversial," Rader said. "We didn’t want any problems. We didn’t want to be in the media."
They were focused on playing their first game amid the coronavirus pandemic. And on surviving the heat. The temperature was 101 degrees and the heat index was 108 at kickoff.
Thanks to a big game from Rader, a wide receiver-turned-quarterback, Heritage rolled to a 42-14 win.
"It’s just a blessing to be able to play this game," Heritage coach Lee Wiginton said. "There has been so much going on. So many people worked so hard for this to be able to happen, from the state level to our local level."
Only schools in Class 4A and below are allowed to play for the first month, and Midlothian ISD allowed only 40% capacity Friday — 10% less than the maximum allowed by the UIL. Social distancing was enforced in the stands, with every other row marked off with tape, and while only about 125 fans occupied the Hirschi side of the stadium, the home side was well filled.
Rader was the star of the show, taking over as the starting quarterback after he was Heritage’s third-leading receiver in 2019. He capped Heritage’s opening possession with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Haydon Wiginton, scored on a 2-yard run midway through the second quarter and threw a 69-yard touchdown pass to Carter Wilkerson to help Heritage take a 28-14 lead into halftime.
"We had the utmost confidence," Lee Wiginton said. "He’s had a great fall camp. The kids believe in him. He believes in himself."
Rader accounted for four touchdowns, adding a 7-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, and he finished 18 for 24 passing for 219 yards. Running back Cullen Stone added 124 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries, and Haydon Wiginton had 10 catches for 107 yards and a score.
Heritage entered the season ranked No. 3 in the Dallas area among 4A and 3A teams after a 9-5 season that ended in the 4A Division I Region III final. After allowing 26 points per game last year, the Jaguars’ defense limited Hirschi to 274 yards of offense for the game — and held the Huskies to 105 yards and no points in the second half.
A blocked punt gave Heritage the ball at the Hirschi 2-yard line, and it took the Jaguars just two plays to extend its lead to 14-0 on Rader’s touchdown run. Later in the second quarter, Heritage recovered a fumble at the Hirschi 5 and again needed just two plays to score, this time on Stone’s 1-yard run.
Several Hirschi players appeared to deal with cramping and had to be helped off the field. Second-team all-state defensive end Chris Murray, a three-star recruit who is committed to TCU, went down late in the third quarter and eventually limped off.
The majority of fans wore face coverings when they were up and walking around the stadium, but few used their masks when they were seated in the stands. Most Heritage players did not wear masks when they were on the sideline and had their helmets off.