The home side of Dragon Stadium was packed Friday night and the cowbells were out in force. A maroon wall of noise thundered towards the Vandegrift sideline and was at its loudest three times in the final five minutes of the game.
The Vipers never panicked.
On their final drive of the game, Vandegrift converted three clutch 4th downs, including Isaiah Smallwood’s game-winning 6-yard touchdown run on 4th-and-goal, as the Vipers beat Round Rock 27-24 and stay perfect on the season.
“Everyone was pretty nervous, but we had trust in each other and trust in the coaching staff,” quarterback Dru Dawson said. “We just executed everything and I’m just proud of the team and the coaches.”
Dawson hit Ryan Merrifield on 4th down from deep in their own territory and Smallwood rushed for a 7-yard gain on anther 4th down conversion near midfield. The winning score was the senior running back’s second of the game and sixth of the season.
“What was going through my head was just trying to get the first down,” Smallwood said. “The offensive line has been producing all year and all night. We came out and played strong and just pushed through.”
Round Rock took the lead with just over five minutes left in the game when senior running back Marquis Brown capped off a 75-yard, 11-play drive with a 2-yard plunge. The Vipers have proved they can win in just about every fashion.
“Every time there was a conversion, we had to go for it and it kind of makes your decisions easier.” Vandegrift head coach Drew Sanders said. “We held them to three 3rd downs on that last drive and they just kept converting. Round Rock is a very good football team.”
Dawson completed 16-of-21 passing for 165 yards and a touchdown. Karson Sohrt caught three passes for 53 yards and a touchdown while Merrifield had five receptions for 39 yards. Brendan Bennett carried the ball 11 times for 46 yards.
Smallwood finished with 120 yards and two touchdowns on 21carries.
“That kid is built to compete, and when the moment is big, he’s ready,” Dawson said. “That’s what he showed tonight.”
Round Rock was led by senior running back Marquis Brown, who had 87 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries and quarterback Ryan O’Keefe, who rushed for 125 yards on 15 attempts. Junior receiver Collin Sullivan caught four passes for 61 yards.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” Round Rock head coach Jeff Cheatham said. “I’m proud of my team. We’ve got a lot of games still to play and we’re getting better every week. That was a great performance by (Vandegrift).”
Israel Morgan scored on a 10-yard run for the Dragons in the first quarter. The Vipers came back with a 34-yard touchdown reception by Sohrt and a 31-yard run by Smallwood in the second quarter.
Brown scored his first touchdown of the game early in the second half and Vandegrift kicker Tim Barney nailed his second field goal of the night on the first drive of the fourth quarter.
Round Rock will look to bounce back on the road next Friday night when it takes on Leander at Bible Stadium, while Vandegrift will be hoping to continue its strong run next at home against McNeil.
“This was a huge confidence builder, but we’re just focused on the next game,” Dawson said.