WALKER — Coming off a winless 2014 season, Walker made headlines throughout nondistrict play by starting 5-0.
Central High sent a message Friday night that District 4-5A’s other Wildcats may be a contender themselves.
Thanks to a flurry of long-distance pass plays in the third quarter, Central turned an evenly matched first half into a one-sided affair and rolled to a 55-25 road win in the district opener for both teams.
“It’s not a bad deal to be on that side of the coin sometimes as the underdog, and our guys felt that we were the underdog coming in,” Central coach Sid Edwards said. “Been a while since we’ve been in that position, but we’ll take it.”
Much was made of 4-5A’s improvement this season after the league’s six teams combined to go 24-6 in predistrict action.
A couple of early losses seemingly made Central, coming off a 4-6 season, something of an afterthought. At least until now.
The Wildcats (4-2) made sure Walker (5-1) would have to wait to score its first district win since 2011 and secure its first winning regular season since joining the 5A ranks in 2003.
Junior Gabe Brown connected on 9 of 15 passes for 288 yards and five touchdowns, with three TD strikes of 40-plus yards early in the third quarter.
He also had 48 rushing yards on 15 carries with a score.
Special teams also played a huge role. Joshua Herbert returned the opening kickoff 85 yards to set up Brown’s first touchdown pass. After Walker answered with a run-heavy 32-yard scoring march, Jearlmiah Ward went 76 yards for a score on the ensuing kickoff.
In the third quarter, Central recovered two onside kicks in the third quarter, each recovery setting up two more Central scores.
“It just felt like anything that could go wrong went wrong,” Walker coach Brandon Lawley said. “It felt like every time we got our footing, we took three steps backwards again in a matter of two minutes.”
Sophomore Tristan Taylor ran for 168 yards on 21 carries, including 138 on 14 in the first half, but Walker’s offense was unable to find the balance it needed to keep pace.
Terry Bozeman finished 12 of 34 for 150 yards with one interception. Nonetheless, Walker trailed only 21-13 when the Wildcats punted to Central following the opening possession of the second half.
That’s where Brown and the Central passing game let loose.
“They were doing such a good job of stopping the run in the first half that we thought we had to put it in the air in the second half,” Edwards said.
Brown connected with Joseph Schopp for a 69-yard score and, following the first onside kick recovery, hit Mason Evans from 43 yards. After another onside kick, Brown again found Schopp for an 80-yard score.
An 18-yard TD pass to Trenton Guay made it 48-13 with 4:24 to play in the third.