HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL

Vandegrift outlasts weather to beat Hendrickson and continue perfect start

The Vipers came away with four fumble recoveries and one interception in the win against the Hawks

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Mother Nature couldn't slow down Vandegrift, even if she allowed Drew Sanders to have his post-game meal a little early.

The Vipers outlasted a two-hour weather delay to beat Hendrickson 29-20 on Friday night thanks to a suffocating defense that forced five turnovers and solid kicker in Tim Barney, who hit a 26-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to put the game away.

"I just ate some Uncrustables and bananas and chilled out (during the delay)," Sanders said. "All I know is we're 2-0 in district, and that was a really good team we just beat. The biggest difference was our defense. We consistently did what we needed to do, we even scored a touchdown against a team that hadn't really been stopped."

Hendrickson had blowout wins over Texarkana Texas and Westwood in its first two games of the season and came into Friday's matchup averaging 60 points a game.

Defensively for the Vipers, Ryan Arnold scooped up a fumble and returned it for a touchdown in the first half and Reece Watson intercepted his second pass of the season late in the fourth quarter to help seal the win.

Barney hit three field goals on Friday night, one week after nailing the game-winning field goal in overtime to help Vandegrift down defending district champion and state semifinalist Cedar Ridge.

Junior quarterback Dru Dawson completed 17-of-23 passes for 191 yards and one touchdown and ran for another 25 yards on five carries. Isaiah Smallwood carried the ball 24 times for 61 yards and a touchdown.

Ryan Merrifield had a breakout game, catching eight passes for 138 yards and a touchdown.

"Coming in the week preparing with (Dawson), I knew it was going to be a good week since we got that connection down," Merrifield said. "We just stayed focused (during the break) and we have faith in our kicker."

The Vipers are off to a perfect 4-0 record for the first time since 2015, when they had the deepest postseason run in school history and advanced to the state quarterfinals.

Vandegrift settled for a 30-yard field goal on the first drive of the game despite moving the ball all the way to the 1-yard line. The Vipers only needed one play to score on its next drive when Dawson hit Merrifield with a 29-yard rainbow pass to give the Vipers a 10-0 lead.

Hendrickson had a touchdown called back for holding late in the first quarter, Vandegrift recovered a fumble on the next play and Smallwood capped off a nine-play drive with a 28-yard touchdown run.

The Hawks responded on the next drive Blaine Barker hit Kamryn Nobles, who made a few Vandegrift players miss and scored from 54 yards out. But Vandegrift continued its first-half dominance when Ryan Arnold scooped up a fumble by Barker and returned it 31 yards just before the half.

Timieone Jackson scored from two yards out for Hendrickson late in the third quarter to cut the Vipers' lead to 10 points, but Barney hit his second field goal of the game - this time from 33 yards out - to restore the Vandegrift lead.

Barker connected with James Hester for a 14-yard TD to cap off an eight-play drive and once again get the Hawks within a score.

The Vandegrift defense came up huge once again after Drew Nelson came up with the Vipers' fourth fumble recovery of the game to set up Barney' game-sealing field goal after a two-hour delay.

"We forced their hand on that and we call them takeaways," Sanders said. "We did some run stunts that they hadn't seen before and I'm proud of the guys to execute what we worked on all week."

Vandegrift hosts Leander ISD rival Vista Ridge next Friday night at 7 p.m. before facing off against Round Rock on Oct. 5.

"It feels like we've played in huge games every week," Sanders said. "For us to go out and go 4-0 against the quality of competition, I'm just proud of our kids and we're going to enjoy this one tonight. We've still got a little time to celebrate."

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