In a game featuring 18 combined touchdowns, over 1,000 yards of total offense and record-setting play by both starting quarterbacks (not to mention that it took nearly four hours to complete), it was a field goal -- the first of the game -- that made the difference.
Regulation wasn't enough to separate the two teams, not after a one-yard run by Austin High senior quarterback Jordan Jacquez as the clock on the scoreboard expired.
What was enough was an interception on Belton's first overtime possession by Austin HIgh's Rondo Middleton. Buying time in the pocket, 2011 Texas commit David Ash eluded several pass rushers and had a receiver open in the opposite flat across the field, but made the cardinal sin of throwing across his body and Middleton was able to break on the ball and secure the interception.
Attempting to end the game there, Middleton's return ended with a fumble and Belton may have been able to recover had 2012 Texas target Cayleb Jones, lined up at safety on the play, not been trailing the play and, in a heady decision, knocked the ball out of bounds.
It was the only mistake for Ash on the evening, as the future Longhorn signal caller was spectacular, throwing for 460 yards in regulation and six touchdown passes. His counterpart, Jacquez, was nearly as impressive himself, matching Ash's six touchdowns with a number of his own and setting a House Park record for passing yardage.
For football purists, the traditionalists who value three yards and a cloud of dust and all that, House Park in Austin was not the place to be on an unseasonably cool Friday night. For those who love offense, offense, and more offense, this was an incredible game to watch. A game that neither team should have had to lose, truth to tell.
It all started fast, too, with four scores in the first four minutes of the game, setting the stage for what was to come. Though there were plenty of penalties and several fumbles, it was a surprisingly well-played game. Offensively at least. Turns out there's a reason there isn't a "d" in Austin High. Or Maroons. Or Belton High. Or Tigers. Nowhere to be found, except for that final offensive play by Belton.
It took a 13-yard touchdown run by David Ash, who was impressive scrambling to pass and to run all evening, as he wove his way through numerous defenders and ran over two at the end to find the end zone. That play took the lead for Belton with barely more than a minute remaining.
In this game though? One minute represented eternity. Austin High marched down the field, with a big play coming on a Cayleb Jones catch over the middle to set up the eventual touchdown run by his quarterback.
Whew. Deep breath. Evaluations after the jump.
David Ash, 2011 Belton QB -- Going into the game, the two main things I was looking for with Ash were his leadership and his ability to go through his progressions and make good decisions. On the first count, it was more of the same -- Ash receives a lot of praise from his coaches and those who have closely observed his career for being the type of kid who does everything right, from working hard in the classroom to working hard in the film room to working hard on the practice field.
However, for better or worse, he's just not a vocal leader at this point. He leads by example and spends most of his time on the sideline standing by himself. As the quarterback at Texas, and one who will probably start for a season or two, Ash will have to grow into a more vocal leadership role and Garrett Gilbert, naturally a fairly quiet person himself, will be a good role model for the Belton signal caller.
Even after his spectacular touchdown run late in the game, Ash was low key coming off the field, seemingly only allowing himself to crack a smile a few minutes later when talking about it with several of his teammates, one of his few interactions with them all evening.
Throwing the football, Ash's mechanics didn't look as clean for some reason as they did during 7-on-7 this summer. Instead of keeping the ball high, Ash was often dropping his elbow in the early part of his release and his mechanics weren't always consistent throughout the game. At times, he was able to zip the ball, but mostly showed off his touch and accuracy, with only one or two poorly-thrown passes all night -- which is amazing considering he threw the ball at least 40 times.
The decision to throw the ball across his body at the end of the game was his only really poor decision on the night, an improvement from the summer when he often tried to fit the ball into tight windows. Part of that may have been improved decision-making and part of it may have been the fact that he threw to a lot of wide-open receivers. However, he had just thrown a pass on the previous play that was dropped by his receiver in the end zone, so it never should have come to the interception that he threw. Not to make excuses for Ash, but he gave Belton a chance to win in overtime and his teammate didn't come through.
If there was one thing that Ash could have done better besides cleaning up his mechanics, a bit, it was to put more velocity on the ball at times, especially on the last play. Though he doesn't possess a canon -- his arm strength is more comparable to, say, Garrett Gilbert than Matthews Stafford -- Ash can rifle the ball if he wants to, he simply seems to prefer to throw a more catchable ball with touch. As windows increasing close in college, Ash may need to reach back for that little bit extra a little more often.
As a runner, Ash is underrated as an athlete. Not as fast as Colt McCoy, Ash probably runs in the 4.7 range at this point and has solid feet. So he won't run away from anyone, but he makes good decisions about when to run with the ball and when to scramble to pass and has good pocket presence. Several times he pulled the ball down and picked up positive yardage -- he had 50 or more yards rushing on the night and several other times he was able to show off his combination of strength and balance to get out of the grasp of would-be tacklers and make plays downfield. On one, Ash broke a tackle from a defensive lineman while knocking over a referee, reversed field -- he probably ran 50 or more yards on the play -- and still was able to keep his eyes downfield and deliver a strike to an open receiver.
Overall, Ash looks like he is making much better decisions than he was last season, when highlight reels from players in the area showed quite a few poor plays a a junior. Right now, even though his leadership perhaps leaves a little bit to be desired, his combination of accuracy, above-average arm strength, and good athleticism makes him a strong candidate to be a solid to good quarterback in college, even on a big stage like Texas. So even though he's probably not a top-15 talent in the state, Ash has a lot of good things going for him as he nears the end of his high school career.
Cayleb Jones, 2012 Austin High WR -- To begin with, it may be worth talking about several things that Cayleb Jones is not. He's not a safety, taking a lot of poor angles to the football on that side of the football. He's also not a strong downfield blocker, mostly looking disinterested in that facet of the game. A burner he is not, as well, unable to make up any ground on Belton senior CB-- who to be fair is plenty fast -- on a kickoff return for a touchdown early in the game.
On the other hand, there is one thing that Cayleb Jones is extremely good at and that is getting open and catching the football. One hand or two hands, Jones will catch nearly everything thrown in his direction. Those hands are big and soft and he's a natural pass catcher. On the night, he only dropped one catchable pass (before he atoned with a late touchdown catch on the following play) and had another two that he didn't bring in because of interference, but he can catch the ball outside of his frame and attacks the football well away from his body on those passes that are within his frame. Well-drilled as well as natural.
The two most impressive plays were made one-handed. Some receivers try to catch balls with one hand they could reach with two, but Jones made both catches at full extension and they were truly elite grabs -- only a handful of high school receivers in the country could make those plays. Wow.
As mentioned earlier, Jones isn't a burner, but he has good burst and is a fluid athlete with impressive body control. Once again, he's a natural. As a route runner, he runs a few double moves, but mostly he runs hitches, crossing routes, and posts, so it would be nice to see a little more variety.
Jones has some ability to plant his foot and change direction to make plays after the catch, but he's not a player with a ton of shake in his hips. He is good at going up and getting the ball in traffic, using his leaping ability to high point the football (often with one hand) and knows how to use his hands for the subtle little pushes and shoves to gain himself some extra separation a la Michael Irvin. The several times that Darrius White tried to jam Jones at the line of scrimmage, he was able to use his hands to beat the press coverage, all the more impressive because he is still pretty underdeveloped in his upper body.
As with his performance at the spring game, coming away from House Park, there was no question that Jones is the elite talent he is made out to be and though he could stand to add some strength and improve his speed, it's his fluidity, flypaper hands, and strong leaping ability/body control that makes him a top prospect and an absolutely elite wide receiver. The Real Deal. The Truth. All of that.