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No. 2 China Spring too much for No. 10 Connally, 51-21

From the Centex high school football: Week 4 coverage series
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When the China Spring offense walked on the field with its full first-team arsenal, the Cougars were eventually going to make the plays that made the difference in a showdown of state-ranked opponents.

Short-handed Connally couldn’t keep up.

China Spring quarterback Cash McCollum passed for 199 yards and a touchdown and added a 38-yard TD run to lead the No. 2 Cougars over No. 10 Connally, 51-21, on Friday night at the Cadets’ Mac Peoples Stadium.

China Spring running back Kyle Barton contributed 126 rushing yards and three touchdowns, while Tre Hafford followed up his breakout performance against Mexia last week by making three catches for 96 receiving yards.

The Cougars (4-0), last year’s Class 4A Division II state champions that have bumped up to 4A Division I, simply had more weapons than Connally.

The Cadets (3-1), who moved into the 4A D-II state top 10 this week, posted a trio of impressive wins to start this season, including thrillers the last two weeks against La Vega and Cameron Yoe. But Connally quarterback Jelani McDonald suffered a lower leg injury against the Yoemen and didn’t play against China Spring.

Even so, Connally threw some punches in the first half, making big plays early on both sides of the ball.

China Spring just absorbed the Cadets’ best shots and answered in kind.

After Connally running back Kiefer Sibley broke loose for a 50-yard touchdown run to give the Cadets a 7-3 lead midway through the first quarter, it took China Spring two plays to get the lead back.

McCollum connected with Hafford on a short wide-receiver screen that Hafford turned into a 62-yard gain. The Cadets defense finally ushered Hafford out of bounds at the Connally 3. On the next play, Barton burrowed into the end zone to put China Spring back in front.

“We had to respond,” China Spring first-year coach Tyler Beatty said. “That’s one thing our team has done a really good job of is being able to respond and kind of counter the opponent.”

That quick-strike touchdown drive ignited the Cougars’ momentum as they scored the final 24 points of the half.

China Spring defensive lineman Jordan Mulkey, who recovered a Connally fumble on the opening kickoff, pounced on his second ball of the night early in the second quarter. Mulkey took advantage when Connally punter Toby Terry lost the handle of a punt snap in his own end zone. The Cougars defensive lineman dove to the ground and gathered in the ball for a touchdown, boosting China Spring’s advantage to 17-7 with 9:57 left before halftime.

Kicker Thomas Barr gave China Spring the initial lead after its game-opening takeaway in Cadet territory as he drilled a 43-yard field goal. Barr added a 28-yarder in the second quarter, making the score 20-7 in the Cougars’ favor.

McCollum and the China Spring offense made the most of their final possession of the first half after they got the ball at their own 29 with 2:12 remaining in the second quarter. McCollum showed off his arm by going over the top of the Cadet defense and finding Tristan Exline for a 45-yard gain that reached the Connally 6.

Once again, Barton took care of the rest, scoring on a six-yard touchdown run this time. The Cougar running back had just 31 yards on eight carries in the first half, but his two TDs did a lot of the damage as China Spring went to the break with a 27-7 edge.

McCollum completed 5 of 9 passes for 135 yards before the bands marched.

Exline finished with four catches for 97 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

Sibley, Central Texas’ leading rusher, went to the break with 73 yards on 10 carries. Most of it came on his first-quarter touchdown romp. He added a 55-yard touchdown pass to Kobe Black and a 29-yard touchdown run as Connally closed the gap to 20 points in the fourth quarter.

Sibley finished with 121 rushing yards on 16 carries.

Following Sibley’s second rushing TD of the contest that came with 10:26 left in the fourth quarter and cut the Cougars’ lead to 41-21, Beatty reinserted China Spring’s first team offense.

On the second play of the ensuing possession, McCollum broke loose for his 38-yard scoring run and China Spring had made its point.

“I think it’s being able to call our shots and being able to attack and control the pace of the game,” Beatty said. “Let’s just go out and do it and put the pressure on the other team.”

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