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NEW WAVERLY — Playing on short rest, the New Waverly Bulldogs toppled one of their primary district threats — inching closer to a long-awaited postseason berth in the process.

New Waverly (4-2, 2-1) handed undefeated Hemphill (5-1, 3-1) its first loss of the season on Saturday. The 38-28 homecoming win moved the Bulldogs into sole possession of third place in District 12-3A, Division II with three games left in the regular season.

A loss to first-place Newton on Monday set New Waverly back temporarily. Now, however, the Bulldogs are just three wins away from securing a second-place finish — and one or two away from snapping a three-year playoff drought.

“After a game like Monday it’s difficult to get your head back in the game, because Newton is a very good football team,” New Waverly head coach Dean Schaub said. “We preached to the kids that we’re the second best team in the district, and they have to go out and prove to everybody and prove to Hemphill that we are the second best team. And nobody wants to have two losses in a week, so it was very important for us to get this win.”

Junior quarterback Sebastine Amaro passed for 144 yards and a touchdown, but it was the running game that drove the New Waverly offense. Amaro had 158 yards and two scores on the ground, while Will Larrison and Peyton Cooper combined to rush for 135 yards and one touchdown each.

After the game, Amaro pointed to the Bulldogs’ ability to play with tempo as a driving force in their success.

“We know that we're the best conditioned team in our district,” he said. “By not getting tired, and taking advantage of when they're tired, that's how we get our points.”

Jacarius Smithers led the way for the Bulldogs' defense, recording three tackles for loss and forcing a pair of fumbles. Cooper, Hayden Forester and Davis Schaub each had fumble recoveries for New Waverly, with the turnovers occuring at pivotal moments that prevented momentum from flipping in Hemphill’s favor.

The first came late in the first half, as Schaub pounced on a fumble with the Hornets down 7-6 and driving inside the redzone. The Bulldogs proceeded to march down the field and extend their lead to eight before the break. Cooper’s recovery early in the third quarter enabled New Waverly to stretch its lead to 18, while Forester’s ended a Hemphill drive to secure the victory in the final minutes.

“Coach just told us to be aggressive all week,” Smithers said. “We practiced on our tempo, and played as hard as we could.”

PLAYOFF PICTURE

New Waverly currently sits alone in third place, trailing Hemphill by half a game and Newton by a game and a half. However, with Saturday’s victory, the Bulldogs now control their fate as they pursue the district’s No. 2 seed.

Depending on how Friday’s slate of games unfolds, New Waverly could lock up a playoff spot next week against Kountze, which sits one game behind the Bulldogs in fifth place. Anderson-Shiro trails New Waverly by half a game in fourth, with the two teams set to meet in the regular-season finale on Oct. 11.

NEXT UP

New Waverly will return to action on Friday at Corrigan-Camden. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.