Score one for the Texas High defense, with a giant assist from senior running back Tracy Cooper.
The Tiger defense, which suffered through a disastrous 2018 season, put together their best effort in at least two years, holding Arkansas High to 98 total yards in a 28-7 victory over the outmanned Hogs Friday night at Razorback Stadium.
All Cooper did was run for 233 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries. He had another TD called back, his third of the young season.
Arkansas High’s offense never got untracked against the aggressive Tigers. Quarterback Brandon Bishop (11-24) and running back Torie Blair (20-58) combined for 82 yards on 31 carries, and Bishop completed just 3 of 20 passes for 16 yards and was intercepted in the second half by Lajontae Wrighter.
The Hogs managed just three first downs in the second half and five of their 12 total came on penalties. Texas High drew 11 penalties for 99 yards, while Arkansas High was flagged eight times for 70 yards.
The lone score of the second half came on a 6-yard run by Cooper, completing a 6-play, 69-yard drive that included a personal foul on the Razorbacks.
Cooper, heat factors that favored Tigers
Texas High coach Gerry Stanford stopped short of saying the defensive showing was the best in his two-plus seasons at THS.
“It was the best defense we’ve put on the field, but what you have to remember is all those kids started last years as sophomores,” he said. “Tonight we started one sophomore at inside linebacker, eight juniors and two seniors. So most of those kids played last year but were young. Collectively, we played good team defense.”
Stanford said his team’s depth was a factor in the sweltering heat.
“We played seventeen guys on defense in the first half, so we were rolling them in and out and keeping them fresh,” he said. “And as much as anything they’re doing their jobs.”
Arkansas High coach Barry Norton credited the size and physical nature as the Tigers’ key to victory.
“We needed to play a real clean game; we needed to keep the ball and make first downs,” said Norton, now 1-2 against Texas High as Razorback coach. “This team couldn’t afford to get in the hole and play catch-up. We’re not ready for that yet. We’re not mature enough as an offense to play from behind. But we’ll get there.”
Razorbacks found Cooper hard to tackle
Norton said his team could not match up with Texas High physically.
“We got pushed around and dominated by their offensive line,” he said. “Their running back (Cooper) is really good. What they do is get on you and smother you and he finds a place to run. They were just bigger and more physical than we were, and we couldn’t handle it.”
That was Texas High’s pre-game goal.
“All week long we preached to the kids that we’re going to be more physical,” Stanford said. “We were going to win inside and we were going to protect the football. We didn’t turn the ball over, we ran the football and we stopped the run. I wanted to shorten the game, wear on them and make it physical at the end. And we were able to do that.”
As he did in last week’s opener, Cooper enjoyed a big first half, rushing 137 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. His 50-yard dash through left guard came two plays after Arkansas High had pulled within 14-7 on an 8-yard run by Blair with 10:34 left in the half.
The remainder of the second quarter was dominated by both defenses and the officials, who threw 12 combined flags totaling 115 yards in the half.
Penalties hurt Razorbacks the most
Those penalties hurt the Razorbacks on both sides of the ball early on, and Texas High took advantage to score twice in the first quarter. Cooper accounted for 55 of the 61 yards it took the Tigers to score in six plays following the opening kickoff, including the final two with 9:20 remaining.
Jackson Halter recovered a fumble at the AHS 47 on the Hogs’ second play from scrimmage after the ensuing kickoff, but the Tigers failed on fourth down, giving the Razorbacks the ball at their own 45.
But a holding penalty forced a punt, setting up a 10-play, 55-yard drive ending in Rian Cellers’ (6-13-0, 59 yards) 8-yard pass to tight end Clayton Smith. The Hogs were whistled for 20 yards in penalties on the drive.
Arkansas High managed its best drive after the kickoff, moving 68 yards on nine plays. The big play came on a 14-yard scramble by Bishop, who completed just two of nine passes for eight yards in the half. Blair muscled his way through several defenders to score from the 8, but Cooper negated that TD with his 50-yard run.
Arkansas High 0 7 0 0 — 7
Texas High 14 7 0 0 — 28
TH-Tracy Cooper 2 run (Diego Mata-Chavez kick), 9:20
TH-Clayton Smith 10 pass from Rian Cellers (Mata-Chavez kick), 1:25
AH-Torie Blair 8 run (Christian Stewart kick), 10:34
TH-Cooper 50 run (Mata-Chavez kick), 9:56
TH-Cooper 6 run (Mata-Chavez kick), 6:16