Lujuan Winningham’s fingerprints were all over Atascocita’s passport to this week’s Class 6A Division I high school football state semifinals.
The Atascocita High School senior wide receiver was a pivotal figure in the Eagles’ 33-27 overtime upset of District 21-6A rival North Shore in the Region III-6A Division I title game at NRG Stadium.
Therefore, Atascocita (12-1) will make its first-ever trip to the state semifinals Dec. 10 when the Eagles face 13-1 Lake Travis at the San Antonio Alamodome. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m.
Winningham will command the full attention of the Lake Travis defense following his clutch performance in the regional final.
Trailing North Shore 20-14 in the third quarter, Winningham gave the Eagles their first lead of the contest when he took a short pass from quarterback Daveon Boyd and sprinted 60 yards for a touchdown.
“We knew the cornerbacks were going to bite every single time we threw the ball out there,” Winningham said. “So it was just catch the ball and get up-field. I happened to break one or two tackles and outran the rest of them like it was track season. Did you see the lean at the end?”
The 6-foot-4 Winningham was regularly targeted by Boyd throughout the contest just as he has been during the course of the season.
A 26-yard Boyd-to-Winningham connection to the North Shore eight-yard line in the first quarter set up Atascocita’s first score of the game. Four plays later, Boyd snuck in from the one.
In a back-and-forth contest that produced numerous second-half lead changes following a 14-14 stalemate at halftime, Winningham and fellow receivers Alerick Soularie and Griffin Hammond were called upon frequently by Boyd, who passed for 349 yards.
“We have a great group and the best corps of receivers I’ve ever been with since I began playing football,” Winningham said. “With Daveon throwing the ball it makes us even better.”
North Shore (12-2) was the defending Class 6A Division I state champion and had beaten Atascocita 31-21 in district play back on Oct. 7 at Turner Stadium.
The Mustangs took a 27-24 lead with one minute, 31 seconds remaining in regulation when Kerrion Hadnot caught a 17-yard TD pas from quarterback Bryant Badie.
However, Atascocita forced overtime when David Heaton kicked a 36-yard field goal as time ran out in the fourth quarter (27-27).
North Shore fumbled on its first possession of overtime and Boyd answered with a six-yard TD run that sealed Atascocita’s first regional title in football.
Atascocita lost to Austin Westlake in the Region II-6A finals last year.
“We had a great team last year and we still respect them,” Winningham said. “Coach (Craig Stump) always talks to us about finishing off games and this time we got it done.
“It was the scariest moment of my life,” Winningham said. “If we are going to be considered better than last year’s team, we had to finish off this game.”