At the end of Thursday night at Dick Bivins Stadium, the best news for Tascosa and Palo Duro was that it was just the first game and it was in the books.
There wasn’t a whole lot which was artistic in this season opener between the two longtime Amarillo ISD rivals, which wasn’t really a surprise. And in the end, for anyone who’s been following the rival, the result wasn’t a surprise.
For the 13th time in his 14 seasons as head coach at Tascosa, Ken Plunk notched a victory over Palo Duro, as the Rebels jumped on top early and coasted the rest of the way for a 35-7 victory. The opening win was nice, although Plunk would have liked to see his team hit the gas a little more.
“In the second quarter we had a chance to kind of break the game open and we didn’t do it,” Plunk said. “We could have gone up 28-0 at the half. Any time you get through the first week with a win you’re happy.”
“We were a little more lax than I probably would have liked. We need to do a little better job coaching in those situations as well. Even though we’re a very experienced staff we still have to relearn some lessons from year to year.”
The first half resembled a season opener in that sloppiness and lack of execution happened more often than will be anticipated later in the season. But Tascosa was undisputedly the better team at the outset, scoring three touchdowns in the first quarter to take a 21-0 halftime lead.
Tascosa scored on the first two possessions, taking advantage of a short field as Tayden Barnes scored on a 7-yard run for a 7-0 lead. On their next possession, the Rebels made a rare strike through the air with their sole completion of the game, as Hudson Farris hit T.J. Tillman on an out pattern and Tillman did the rest, breaking back across the field and outracing the Palo Duro defense to the end zone for a 52-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
That was the first of two big plays by the sophomore Tillman, making his varsity debut. Tillman opened the second half by taking the kickoff 97 yards for a score to make it 28-0 and end any illusions of a competitive contest.
“I was a little nervous at first, but the jitters came out because this is normal football,” Tillman said. “I just try to make big plays for my team. (Plunk) called me after I got up here and told me he was going to use me this year. (Opponents should look out) and if not I can make more big plays and show them what I can do.”
Only 78 seconds after Tillman’s first touchdown, the Rebels scored with their special teams, as Treshun Wilson bulled through and blocked a Jacob Jimennez punt and Micah Lewis picked it up and returned it 26 yards for a score and a 21-0 lead.
Palo Duro only seriously threatened once in the first half, as on fourth down, Avery Randle was intercepted in the end zone by Aushaun Wilson to kill the opportunity for the Dons.
Penalties were a theme in the first half. Tascosa racked up 75 yards in penalties and Palo Duro had 55 yards, which exceeded the 31 yards of total offense for the Dons.
Palo Duro played respectably on defense, giving up only 248 yards to Tascosa’s patented flexbone attack. That was about the only good news PD coach Eric Mims found on the night.
“We’ve got to play better on special teams,” Mims said. “We weren’t special at all. We gave up 14 points on special teams. We’ve got to play better on offense, we scored zero points almost the entire game. We can’t put our defense in that kind of situation.”
The Dons averted a shutout when Kameron Brown scored on a 30-yard run with 1:09 left in the game. That gave Brown a game-high 55 yards on 10 carries.
Tascosa was effective running by committee, as the Rebels had three runners go over 50 yards apiece, led by Farris with 53. However, they hurt themselves with 10 penalties for 105 yards.