The Kaufman Lions put a satisfying grace note on a challenging season with a comeback win over the Sulphur Springs Wildcats on Senior Night in the final home game of the season.
Both teams were hungry for a win coming into the game with 1-7 district records and no chance of seeing the postseason. The cold weather which dipped into the 40s early in the night also put a strain on both teams and contributed to a number of key mistakes and turnovers that set the stage for a stunning comeback for the Lions in front of an emotional hometown crowd.
The Lions’ campaign got off to a rough start. After giving up a big 38-yard pass to the Sulphur Springs offense early in the game, the Kaufman defense did manage to hold the Wildcats to a field goal in their opening drive. But a missed snap on fourth down of the Lions’ corresponding drive resulted in a turnover on downs in the red zone and an easy touchdown for the Wildcats putting the Lions behind 9-0 less than five minutes into the game.
The Kaufman offense showed signs of life on the next drive when quarterback Billy Pullen completed a 13-yard pass to Charleston Miller, but the drive stalled on the Sulphur Springs 36 resulting in another turnover on downs keeping the score at 9-0 to close out the first quarter.
Neither team was able to sustain a quality drive during the opening minutes of the second quarter, but the Wildcats found their opening when Dominique Sims intercepted an errant pass from Pullen, setting the stage for a four-play drive for Sulphur Springs in Kaufman territory resulting in their second touchdown of the evening and a 15-0 lead over the Lions with 5:50 left in the half.
Despite a strong opening run from Kaufman running back Raikyviun Shaw to open the Lions’ next drive, the Wildcats held them on their next set of downs resulting in a punt and a slim chance to get on the board for the Lions before the end of the half. That outlook changed in an instant with just 2:46 remaining on the board when senior Javion Smith hauled in what may be his last interception as a Kaufman Lion setting the stage for an eight-play dash to the Sulphur Springs end zone capped by a 24-yard completion from Pullen to Miller to put the Lions on the board 7-15 to close out the half.
Kaufman continued the momentum immediately upon returning to the field as Mason Ashton ran back an on-side kick for a 48-yard touchdown that put the Lions within striking distance at 15-13. But when the Lions attempted to tie it up with a two-point conversion, Pullen’s pitch to the left-side was intercepted and run back to the opposite end zone for Sulphur Springs, giving the Wildcats a four-point cushion at 17-13 and a chance to widen that lead with a new drive. Despite a strong stop from Darius McGee at the one yard line off of a 34-yard run from the Wildcats on the fifth play of their ensuing drive, Sulphur Springs made good on that opportunity on the next play widening their lead to 24-13 with 9:02 on the clock in the third.
But the Lions would not be deterred. Starting their next drive from their own 42, the Lions got back in the game instantly with a 58-yard dash to the end zone from Shaw, scoring his final touchdown at home for the Lions and putting the team back within striking distance at 24-19. This time, Pullen connected with Miller for a two-point conversion to bring the Lions up to a field goal away from a tied game 24-21.
With two fast-break scores back to back, the Lions were in a strong position, but they also had to rely on a tiring, cold defense for the remainder of the quarter up against a determined Wildcat offense fighting to hang onto their dwindling lead. Sulphur Springs put together a strong 10-play drive with running back Choc Smith breaking through on multiple occasions. Landon Keeley chased him down and prevented what would likely have been a game-winning touchdown but what remained an impactful 25-yard dash. Backed up to their own goal line, the Kaufman defense made a final stand that culminated with a game-saving interception from Darius McGee setting up a quarter-stradling drive for the Lions.
The Wildcat defense didn’t make it easy on the Lions in what became a 12-play drive; the Lions were forced to convert on third down three times. But the Lions did a great job of sharing the ball and notching a few yards at a time before Pullen connected with Kyndall Trudeau for a 45-yard game-winning touchdown, taking the game to its final score, 28-24 for the Lions.
The Wildcats had nearly a full quarter and three drives to retake the lead, but the Kaufman defense stepped up each time, holding them to two three-and-outs in a row and containing a last-minute burst attempt as the Wildcats began their final drive with just 20 seconds left on the clock.
In total, the Lions had 299 offense yards to Sulphur Springs’ 252. Much of the Lions’ offense relied on its running game which accounted for 205 of that total. Sophomore running back Raikyviun Shaw was a pillar, finishing the game with 30 carries and 168 rushing yards for an average of 5.6 yards per carry and a single touchdown. Billy Pullen also had a strong night for his senior night sendoff, passing for 94 yards and two touchdowns. Kyndall Trudeau was the receiver for 48 of those passing yards with just two receptions and a single touchdown, giving him an average of 24 yards per reception.
On the whole, head coach Jeramy Burleson was pleased with the effort of his team and credits the on-side kick return at the start of the second half, and a strong defensive stand late in the game with the team’s come-from-behind win.
“Friday’s game was exciting from start to finish,” Burleson said. “We had some things go our way and some things go against us, but our guys, as they have done all season long, stayed the course and came out on top. I think the thing that gave us momentum was the on-side kick by Sulphur that ended with Mason Ashton in the end zone for a touchdown. That kind of sparked our kids for the rest of the game. We got a few things going on offense and that is always a relief when you can move the ball consistently, but in the end it was our defense that allows us to come away victorious. Coach Haynes and his defensive staff is always prepared and up for a challenge and they didn’t disappoint this week.”
The Lions will look to continue this momentum and close out their season on a strong note at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Forney. Burleson is hopeful that the team will continue its momentum and come out with one last win in what will be the team’s final football game of the season. But regardless of the outcome, Burleson is confident that lessons learned in what has been a challenging season for the Lions will pay dividends down the road.
“Obviously, our goal is to win as many games as possible and ultimately win a championship,” Burleson said. “This season has proven to be somewhat of a struggle to put together what, on paper, is considered a winning record. However, I believe that we have grown so much from the beginning of the season to now and we continue to see that growth. Hopefully we can get the work done this week in practice that will propel our guys to another win and send these seniors out on a two-game win streak and three of the last four to end the season. I am a firm believer that there will be good that comes from all of the struggles that we have faced this season. I have the utmost respect for these seniors and the time, effort and sacrifices that they have made is appreciated. We will miss this group of guys tremendously and we wish them all the best.”