East gets win on the board, looking for more
GARLAND -- Three Dog Night once sang that "One if the Loneliest Number," but on Thursday night one was the Plano East football team's best friend.
Garland Naaman Forest turned the ball over on the 1-yard line and East converted a 4th-and-1 within a five-minute span in the second quarter. Those plays led to a touchdown and allowed the Panthers to blow open the game in an eventual 45-27 victory.
"This is a big win for us," said Kylon Higgins, East senior defensive back. "It's our first win and now we want more."
East led, 22-7, early in the second quarter, but Naaman threatened to move closer with a three-play, 65-yard drive that included a 52-yard pass from Justin Walker to Tamir Buchanan. The Rangers got to the Panthers 14 and Naaman running back Juaquin Davis took the ball 13 yards from there, but fumbled at the 1 and the touchback gave it to East. That was one of the few missteps on the night for Davis, who carried the ball 26 times for 227 yards and a touchdown.
The Panthers, who got on the board in their first series with a 32-yard touchdown scamper from senior Tre Jones, returned to the ground from there.
Using only seniors Corey Wesley, Nathan Meadors and Dante' Taylor, East moved the ball 80 yards over the next seven plays. The final 16 yards came from Taylor, who bolted around the left side and into the end zone for a 28-7 lead.
"We have been practicing that play a lot and I was able to get it in," Taylor said. "It was a big score because we needed a play right there."
That was Taylor's second touchdown as he also scored from 1-yard out with 4:21 remaining in the first quarter to give East a 15-7 advantage. The running back had three scores on the night. He ran the ball 12 times for 87 yards and two touchdowns to go along with six receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown.
While that turnover cost Naaman, the Rangers also got their lone points of the half on a 54-yard interception return from Buchanan that pulled the team to within 8-7.
East had its own interception return in the first half as well as Higgins, who blocked a field goal and returned it for a touchdown in Week 0, made a pick 6 from 32 yards out to give East a 22-7 lead with 6:37 left in the half.
"I've done some stuff on offense before, so I know how to get to the end zone," Higgins said before jokingly adding, "Maybe I can score every week."
In addition to offensive efficiency, East was able to build a 28-7 halftime lead because of its defense.
A week after getting torched for more than 600 yards against Arlington, the Panthers stepped up. Of Naaman's six first-half possessions, three ended in punts, one in an interception, one in a fumble lost and one due to the end of the half.
"Our defense did an awesome job in the first half," said Johnny Ringo, East head coach. "They really got to the ball."
And that type of performance was anticipated.
"I know a lot of people doubted our defense after that first game," Taylor said, "but not us. We knew they would do well."
The Rangers broke through that defense to start the second half.
Naaman constructed a 12-play, 95-yard drive that featured a heavy dose of runs from Walker and Davis. It was, however, a 23-yard pass from Walker to Jay Sisomphou on 4th-and-2 that equated the touchdown and pulled the Rangers to within 28-14 with 5:49 to go in the third.
But East, which followed up with an 11-play drive that resulted in a 19-yard field goal from senior Casey Collins, would not see their lead dip below 14 points.
But there were still plenty of scoring to be had from there as the two teams combined for 30 points in the fourth quarter.
East accounted for 17 of those with Wesley, who completed 12-of-17 passes for 154 yards and ran for another 46, tossing a 16-yard touchdown pass to Taylor and Meadors running each time in a six-play, 50-yard touchdown drive. Meadors carried the ball 17 times Thursday for 114 yards, which was the highest individual total for an East rushing attack that amassed 297 yards.
"Our offensive line did a great job with the holes," Taylor said.
Many of those holes came near the sidelines.
"Naaman Forest is really good up the middle," Ringo said, "but I think you saw we've got guys with the speed and ability to get out on the edge."
After trailing by as many as 24 points on multiple occasions, the Rangers scored with two minutes remaining to set the final at 45-27.
"That's a good team we just beat; we knew they were going to come at us and they did," Ringo said. "Hopefully this will give our guys more confidence ... and they should be confident because we've got a good football team."