DALLAS — Greg Ward has a special pair of shoes to go with his quick release passing and even quicker feet running.
“Keep God 1st” is inscribed on the back of his white shoes with blue trim.
Using his nimble feet and strong arm, the junior quarterback led John Tyler to a come-from-behind, 45-21, win over Sherman. The victory keeps the Lions’ march to a fourth state championship alive with a semifinal matchup next against Waco Midway.
“I gave everything to God because He’s my Lord and Savior,” Ward said of his reason for the shoes. “And He continues to give me the ability to play well.”
And play well Ward did. Scrambling and keeping his vision down field, Ward completed 25 of 26 passes with the only incompletion actually a dropped pass. He finished the game with 272 yards passing and some 70 yards running. He threw for three TDs and ran for one.
But as impressive as his passing and running, it was a steely, cool composure that proved be his best attribute.
Ward kept his troops on an even keel when JT dropped behind early in the game. And he would not let his teammates get down after the Lions dropped behind on three different occasions in a wild first half against a fast and furious Sherman team that scored on three of its first four possessions.
“I’m the quarterback so I got to have a short memory,” Ward said with a grin. “This was big tonight. I guess the third time is the charm.”
Ward was referring to the Lions advancing to the semifinals in the state playoffs after being knocked out in the quarterfinals the past two seasons.
Head coach Dereck Rush echoed his quarterback’s comments.
“The kids fought hard for four quarters,” Rush said. “We played better in the second half and that helped us get over the hump.”
Ward distributed the ball to his cadre of wide receivers led by fellow junior, Fred Ross, who scored two of the three JT touchdowns in the first half to help square the score at 21 by intermission.
Sherman showed plenty of speed in the first half as the Bearcat offense moved the ball easily. They jumped out to a 7-0 lead and never trailed the remainder of the half. Sherman enjoyed leads of 14-7, 14-13 and 21-13 before John Tyler tied up the game with runs by Tyus Bowser for a touchdown and a two-point conversion. On both runs, Bowser took a direct snap from center in a formation that John Tyler calls the Rhino.
“The coach trusted me with the ball so I had to get into the end zone,” Bowser said. “We needed that two-point conversion to tie the score before halftime so I had to get in again. I think it helped us a lot for the second half.”
Sherman missed field goal that would have given them a lead before halftime.
The Bearcats got the ball again to start the second half and began to drive. They converted a fourth and two from midfield and looked destined to take the lead again.
But John Tyler got a stop at its 30 on another fourth down play.
“They are so good on offense that we felt like we had to go on fourth downs to keep scoring and keep the ball away from them,” Sherman coach Gary Kinne said. “That was two good teams on the field but in the end, they were better tonight.”
After having scored on their last two possessions of the first half, Ward and company went back to work, intent on finally getting a lead. Two quick completions made 19 straight connections before Ward again took off for one his darting runs.
Needing a breather, Ward let Devonte Haggerty take the direct snaps in the Rhino formation and he reeled off two slicing runs, the first called back for holding, but he second leading JT to the Sherman five yard line where Reggie Gipson finally got the Lions on top, 28-21, with 4;23 to play in the third.
John Tyler never trailed again and scored on their next three possessions to put the game out of reach. But aiding the offense was a defense that came to life in the second half.
“We just tackled better in the second half,” Rush said. “We were blitzing in the first half but not tackling well.”
Wreaking havoc with Sherman’s offense were Lion senior defenders Eric Davis, Earnest Jackson and Devonte Black. They applied pressure along with juniors Richard Gipson and Bowser to account for five sacks in the second half.
“We just knew we had to make the tackles in the second half,” Davis said. “We finally stopped them and that helped us a lot. This really feels good to advance.”
As a little icing on the cake, Black picked off a Sherman pass late in the game.
“I really wanted to score but it was just good to get a pick,” Black said.
On the Lions final two scoring drive, Ward dazzled with a 30-yard strike to Devonte Haggerty and then a final run of nine yards.
The 9-yard burst was a thing of beauty as Ward zigged and zagged and cut through the Sherman defenders to score standing up.
It had to be the shoes.