Leesville Road turned to its defense in the second half to stymie Sanderson’s upset hopes and earn a 28-17 Cap Eight 4A victory.
Leesville’s defense had two interceptions and recovered a fumble in the second half to stop the Sanderson attack.
“They’re a very physical football team. We knew they would be,” Leesville Road coach Chad Smothers said of Sanderson. “But we hung in there and got a little bit better in the second half.”
Trailing 17-14 late in the third quarter, Leesville Road (5-2, 2-1) forced a fumble and recovered at midfield. The Pride then used an 11-play scoring drive that extended into the fourth quarter. Quarterback Malcolm Hitchcock’s 2-yard plunge gave Leesville its first lead 21-17.
Then Hitchcock, playing safety, stepped in front of a Matt Koehler pass and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown. Parker Yount’s extra point put the Pride up 28-17 with five minutes remaining.
Sanderson (3-4, 1-2) couldn’t rebound on its next possession going four-and-out as the Leesville defense held.
Despite the strong finish, things didn’t start smoothly for the Pride. Sanderson scored on its opening possession with a 6-yard touchdown run by Zairee Parker. Grayson Gregory’s kick made it 7-0.
Leesville Road tied it at 7 on its next possession with a 34-yard touchdown pass from Hitchcock to Connor Eller on a fourth-and-8 play.
Sanderson answered early in the second quarter on a 2-yard touchdown run by Koehller to make it 14-7.
Leesville tied it at 14 on its opening drive of the second half. Hitchcock, the do-it-all athlete, returned the kickoff 53 yards to the Sanderson 37. Three plays later he scrambled 37 yards for a touchdown.
Sanderson almost answered equally with a 67-yard kick return by Parker, but the Leesville defense held the Spartans to a 35-yard field goal by Gregory for a 17-14 lead.
“That was one of the turning points of the game holding them to a field goal attempt after a long kick return. We had just tied it up, and that would have put us back down by seven (if Sanderson scored a touchdown.) That was a huge stop for us there,” Smother said.
Despite making only his second start at quarterback, Hitchcock has thrown for a touchdown, ran for a touchdown and had an interception in two straight games.
“He’s done a tremendous job,” Smothers said. “He’s proved himself and taken command of the offense.”
Smothers said Berrios remains “week-to-week” in his evaluation for a return, but doesn’t believe Berrios will be out for the season.