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MANSFIELD — Mansfield Summit could not control the bizarre set of circumstances that put it in position to clinch a playoff berth Thursday night.
But Summit could control what happened in a football game that it had to win to get into the postseason. The Jaguars took care of business — after an unusual start at Vernon Newsom Stadium.
Summit had a 14-point lead before it ran its first offensive play of the game, and the Jaguars went on to beat Birdville 38-24 in the regular-season finale to earn the final playoff spot from District 4-5A Division I. Summit will open the playoffs against District 3-5A Division I champion Abilene Cooper at 7 p.m. next Friday at Shotwell Stadium in Abilene.
“It’s been a crazy season,” Summit coach Channon Hall said. “Our kids have been resilient. It’s win or go home from this point, just like tonight.”
Summit would have missed the playoffs with a loss, but the Jaguars showed no signs of nerves and needed just 16 seconds to take the lead, as Jalon Rock returned the game’s opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. Summit forced a punt on Birdville’s opening drive, and Sean Smith returned the punt 85 yards for a touchdown and 14-0 lead with less than two minutes gone in the first quarter.
Summit (4-4, 3-2 in district) made the playoffs, even though it could finish with fewer district wins than Midlothian, which is 3-3 in 4-5A Division I with one game still to play Friday. Midlothian even beat Summit — 49-30 last week — but Summit’s win Thursday eliminated Midlothian from playoff contention.
A Summit loss would have put the winner of Friday’s Midlothian vs. Richland game in the playoffs.
The University Interscholastic League leaves it up to each district to decide their own tiebreaker rules, instead of having one universal tiebreaker rule that is used by every district in Texas. In a season in which 138 games have been canceled or postponed in the Dallas area for COVID-19 reasons, District 4-5A Division I voted to use winning percentage in district games instead of overall number of district wins to determine its four playoff teams.
“You just control what you can control,” Hall said. “You get out there and try to get better and give yourself a chance in this crazy year to get in. We’re in the show.”
Summit’s winning percentage of .600 would be better than the .571 that Midlothian would have if it beats Richland to finish 4-3 in district. The other two districts that included Mansfield ISD teams played zoned schedules, so canceled games didn’t impact which teams made the playoffs.
“Hindsight is 20/20,” Midlothian coach Doug Wendel said Thursday before Summit played. “That [decision was made] back in August. There was so much up in the air. Were we going to play? At that time, it didn’t feel like anybody had a great solution. There is no great solution if you don’t get to play all the games. There are other districts around the state that came up with some other ideas, and those ideas didn’t work either. … It’s just kind of the way it is this year.”
Colleyville Heritage and Burleson Centennial — two playoff-bound teams that are a combined 8-1 in 4-5A Division I — canceled their district games against Summit, and those games were ruled as no contests instead of being made up. Midlothian, meanwhile, didn’t have any district games canceled and lost to both Colleyville Heritage and Burleson Centennial.
Birdville had just 35 players on its roster for Thursday’s game and finished 1-6 overall and 0-6 in district play. It was a big drop-off from last season, when Birdville won nine games and reached the third round of the playoffs.
Birdville didn’t make it easy for Summit. Aiden Dollar’s 60-yard touchdown pass to Connor Welsh got Birdville within 24-17 with 3:07 left in the third quarter.
Summit came right back and extended its lead to 31-17 on an 11-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Kainen McKinney on the first play of the fourth quarter. McKinney put the game away with a 54-yard touchdown pass to Auburn pledge Hal Presley that made it 38-17 with 6:35 left in the game.
“I knew we had a lot on the line,” McKinney said. “I just had to do what I had to do to put the team on my back.”
McKinney had thrown only five passes all season before Thursday, but he replaced starter David Hopkins in the second quarter after Birdville cut Summit’s lead to 14-10. McKinney made an immediate impact, throwing a 31-yard touchdown pass to Presley on his first pass of the game to make it 21-10, and he finished 5 of 7 for 130 yards and two touchdowns.
“He’s played some Wildcat [quarterback] in and out of the season. It was just that time,” Hall said about the decision to put McKinney in at quarterback. “He’s a senior. He got some confidence, and we just need a change-up, so we went with him, and he delivered.”
Summit is headed to the playoffs for the second straight season and for the sixth time in eight years. It lost in the first round last year, when it was in Class 6A.
Hall expects his team to look different in the playoffs. Summit suited up just 35 players Thursday, but Hall said the Jaguars will get some players back who have been out because of “a little COVID, a little injuries.”
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