Vista Ridge has completely changed its attitude, outlook, and on-field performance over the last 365 days. Thursday night was the final step in that transformation.
The Rangers clinched a playoff spot and completed a miraculous turnaround with a 41-38 win over Round Rock Thursday night at Dragon Stadium. Vista Ridge won just one game all of last season and finished this year at 8-2 overall and 6-2 in District 13-6A.
“The mentality and the way they do things on a daily basis, it showed up tonight, and it showed up down this stretch when we had to have wins,” Vista Ridge head coach Rodney Vincent said. “After the journey they’ve been on and how hard they’ve worked, you want them to experience something like this.
“I feel blessed to work with kids like this.”
The Rangers finished the season on a three-game winning streak, and their only losses came against undefeated Vandegrift and Stony Point, both of which are locked into a postseason position.
Round Rock can still clinch the final spot in District 13-6A if Westwood beats Cedar Ridge by seven or more points on Friday night. If the Raiders beat the Warriors, or lose by six or fewer points, the Dragons will be on the outside looking in.
Vista Ridge quarterback Kyle Brown continued his season-long trend of putting up video game-like numbers, completing 28 of 38 passes for 388 yards and five touchdowns. He completed passes to eight different receivers.
Senior Adam Fogg caught five passes for 133 yards and a touchdown. Kwade Hegtvedt had 10 receptions for 65 yards, Ethan Heffelfinger caught five passes for 39 yards and a touchdown, Emon Allen had 60 yards and a touchdown, and Azure Allen caught two passes, both of which were touchdowns.
Round Rock quarterback Seth Ford finished 15-of-22 for 164 yards with a pair of interceptions. Senior Jordan Smart had 184 yards and four touchdowns on 15 carries, and Israel Morgan had 141 yards on 24 carries. Receiver Collin Sullivan caught 11 passes for 112 yards.
The Dragons forced a turnover on downs with just under two minutes left in the game and drove into Rangers territory. Vista Ridge senior defensive back Canon Kromis came down with an interception with 41 seconds left to seal the game and a spot in the playoffs.
“That interception was just kind of a flashback of what we’ve done together and how we got here,” Kromis said. “This is a new team and a new culture. I’ve never been a part of (a playoff team) before, so I’m optimistic. It’s gonna be a good week.”
The two teams traded punches in the first half. At one point they combined to score on five consecutive possessions. Smart capped off the Dragons’ penultimate drive of the half with a two-yard touchdown run, and Beck Kipperman takes on a 30-yard field goal just before the half extend the Round Rock lead to 10 points.
But the Vista Ridge defense came to play out of the locker room.
After giving up more than 300 yards and four touchdowns in the first half, the Rangers allowed just 136 yards and one touchdown in the second half.
“At halftime, we just talked about our advantage,” Vincent said. “This team has been a good third-quarter team. We focus a lot on the first series of the game and the first series of the second half. I felt like we were going to have to have three stops in the second half to get the game back to where we needed it.”
The Dragons punted on their first drive of the second half and followed that up with a turnover on downs and an interception.
Meanwhile, Vista Ridge scored on its first three possessions of the second half to take control.
“In this district, coming in I had no idea how we would match up because it’s such a talented district,” Vincent said. “What I told people after the hardest part of our offseason was that I’m going to put a group on the field that will play hard and make everybody proud.”
If Vandegrift beats Stony Point on Friday night, Vista Ridge will be the No. 2 seed. If the Tigers prevail, the Rangers will fall to No. 3 in the district.
“The way you know truly about our kids is the way they handled being down in this situation,” Vincent said. “Finding out we had more work to do after the Hendrickson game two weeks ago, and then being down like we were tonight, that was a test for them and they kept on grinding.”