Several players on both sides of the ball have come up big at key moments for the Leander Wolfpack this year, but the emergence of all-purpose athlete Wanya Ward couldn’t have come at a better time.
Ward has been electric these past few weeks, but Saturday was easily his most clutch performance yet as he took the overtime-opening kickoff 95 yards to the house to end the game with a 40-34 win over the Texas Crusaders.
“I think it’s key when someone steps up and we were fortunate enough that he came along when he did, right after Game 1” Wolfpack co-owner Mark Rogers told Developmental Football USA. “He’s got his reps under his belt, he has confidence in what he’s doing and the coaches are finding ways to get the ball in his hands and it’s creating a lot of success all over the field.”
Ward’s success hasn’t flown under the radar of teams on Leander’s Texas United Football Association schedule, either.
“Teams are starting to have to watch out for him and it’s opening up lanes elsewhere,” Rogers said. “Anytime you have a guy that can go the distance anytime he touches the ball, it makes you feel good as a coach and I’ve got four or five guys that can score any time they touch the ball, but he’s been a nice addition.”
Rogers called Saturday’s win his team’s best offensive performance in two years. Ward finished the game with 345 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns. He had five catches for 142 yards and a touchdown, two kick returns for more than 120 yards and a touchdown, and 83 yards rushing and another touchdown.
“Jewel Russell had his best game of the year at quarterback,” Rogers said. “He distributed the ball very well and the offensive line gave him plenty of time to make good decisions.”
Russell finished the night 11 of 16 for 242 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, with Daurius Callies on the receiving end of the other two, good for 50 combined yards. Dajan Henderson led the way on the ground with 11 carries for 63 yards and a touchdown.
“We felt like we had control of the game, pretty much the entire game until late in the third, early in the fourth,” Rogers said.
The hometown Crusaders didn’t go down easy and fought their way back into the game, even when the Wolfpack tacked on another touchdown in the fourth, the Crusaders tied it again late.
“The defense played one of its worst games in two years,” Rogers said. “The guys found a way to pull it out there at the end, but we gave the Crusaders every opportunity.
“Our defense played out of character and didn’t play assignment football. To be blunt, they played selfish. We gave up some big plays, some third-down conversions and we were fortunate the offense was able to pick up up, move the ball and pretty much score at will.”
This weekend, the Wolfpack returns home to host the Lone Star Bandits, Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. The Bandits are coming off a 60-12 loss to the Texas Colts, but Leander won’t take them lightly.
“They have an excellent running back and they’re really big up front,” Rogers said. “They play really, really good. Coming back home this week, we’ve got to be big up front in the trenches and play really good run defense and be prepared for the trickery and some unexpected stuff right now, with where they’re sitting in the standings. I’m not sure if it’s going to affect their playoff seeding much the way it’s going.
“If we can contain the run and keep big plays to a minimum, I think our offense has some good momentum coming into this week and we should be fine.”
The Wolfpack is sitting at second place in their division at 6-1, behind the San Antonio Titans (6-0). The Titans will play the Tomball Bobcats this week (5-1), which has the potential to shake up the rankings.
“Someone is going to drop in the rankings,” Rogers said. “We’re excited about the games coming up now, we’ve got some good competition. We’re excited to get this game played. I think the guys are still chomping at the bit from when we were supposed to play these guys three weeks ago.”