By Charles Ballard
With a sophomore quarterback, Landon Dellinger, and 2,000-yard running back Preston Stephens, the Shepherd Pirates pushed past the first round in the UIL playoffs for the first time since the 60s.
Even with a 50-16 loss on Friday to the Franklin Lions, the Pirates still had a record year.
Coach Miles Robison said it was a very good year and he is looking forward to 2024.
“We have a nice bunch of athletes that are going to fill a lot of shoes,” Robison said. “Our JV team has a lot of talent that we can use next year.”
He said there are still a lot of questions that will need to be answered with the upcoming UIL district realignment, in which Shepherd could return to 4-A division II.
After posting an upset against Kirbyville, Shepherd was set to upset top-ranked Franklin, which was picked to win state almost the entire season until a loss to Lorena.
Ronnie Corn, athletic director for Shepherd and the superintendent of the district for 20-plus years, was the coach of the 1967 team, and presented the ceremonial coin toss before the game. Additionally, Corn graduated from Franklin High School.
The Lions won the opening toss and elected to receive the ball. It was only seconds after the clock started that the score board started lighting up, as Franklin’s first possession of the ball resulted in 8 points.
The game plan for the Pirates was to try to keep the ball on the ground and keep it away from the Lions’ offense. Even though the Pirates ate up a lot of the clock during the first quarter, the second offensive set of downs for Franklin ended with another 8 points.
The Pirates posted a lot of yards in the first half, but no points. Stephens had several very good runs but the Pirates just could not put the ball across the goal line until the fourth quarter.
The Pirates opened the quarter with a score, and with only seconds left in the game, Stephens shoots the gap on the right side of the line, running into a host of Lions. He reverses, finds Dellinger and falls in behind him and runs 68 yards for Shepherd’s final TD of the 2023 season.
The Pirates had a total of 300 yards of offense and Preston Stephens 26 carries for 258 yards and 2 TDS .