DECATUR — He saw a wide-open lane, all he had to do was take off and run — like he's done so many times.
Instead, Jacardia Wright waited, surveyed the field and launched a game-winning halfback pass to Tyler Phillips to beat Downs Tri-Valley 25-20 in a Week 1 showdown.
With the pass, the stage was officially set for Wright's junior season, when he rushed for 2,124 yards and amassed 35 touchdowns on his way to his second consecutive Herald & Review County Football Player of the Year award.
But the pass came with an underlying message: St. Teresa was back where it left off after a Class 1A state runner-up, and Wright could still do nearly anything he wanted on the football field.
"It was a crazy game. Everybody talked them up pretty well during the offseason and said we wouldn't be able to beat them," Wright said. "We came out and I threw that touchdown pass and I was surprised by it, honestly. I didn't know I could actually throw that well.
"It was a clutch moment and I had to step up in it."
The trend of stepping up in big moments continued for the next nine weeks. In the biggest situations, Wright came up largest.
In Week 3 against Warrensburg-Latham, Wright powered for 141 yards and four touchdowns. The biggest run came on fourth down, with the Bulldogs trailing by two, when Wright picked up a first down by half an inch.
Three plays later, he was in the end zone to give St. Teresa a premiere conference win.
He did exactly what coach Mark Ramsey had been telling him to do: Take the short gains and wait for a big run.
"Coach was on me all year that five yards is a good carry still," Wright said. "My freshman and sophomore year I thought I always had to go for 80-yard touchdowns. If I wasn't getting an 80-yard touchdown I was mad. But this year he really worked with me that five is a great carry.
"So I kept running and running and running though people for five yards and getting all these first downs on third-down conversions. That was a big factor for me this year, honestly, because I never trusted it until this year."
When he learned to mix the home run with the singles, Wright became even more of a dominant runner.
Wright rushed for at least 100 yards in every regular season game, making 100-yard games look like 50-yard games, and turning 200-yard games into the new norm.
"The thing that separates him is, even if there’s not a hole there and he bounces, he can run over a guy and still go the distance," Ramsey said. "Whatever play you call, he gives the team a chance anytime he touches the ball."
In a Week 7 loss to Tuscola, he avenged last season's game where he was held to 19 yards and emerged for 236 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Against Shelbyville in Week 9, he ran for 225 yards and two touchdowns, including a 75-yard scoring burst in St. Teresa's win.
"In all the big games, he wanted the ball in the crucial situations and he came though," Ramsey said.
He did it in the first round of the playoffs against Marshall, pounding the Lions for 295 yards and three touchdowns.
Then it stopped.
Carlinville held him to 66 yards in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs, squashing any hope of a return to the state championship game.
Since that game, he's picked up two more Division I football scholarships, to go along with his offer from the University of Iowa, one from Central Michigan and one from Northern Illinois.
But something's missing still. He has one more goal: To get a state championship ring, and hoist the trophy. It's the last thing Wright has left to do as a high school football player.
"It's everybody's dream to have all these offers and all these coaches looking at you," Wright said. "Honestly, it's kind of not hit me yet that all these colleges want me and all this. My main goal is to get to the state championship in high school. Then after that is everything else.
So how do the Bulldogs get back?
"We have to work even harder, 100 times harder," Wright said. "That's all it is. Last year was just like, we could have had it, we had all the potential to get it. We came short, honestly. That’s in your head through the whole next season so you want to work even harder to get to your goals."
But it isn't just offense. Wright is a prolific return man for St. Teresa and Ramsey is getting the 6-foot, 200-pounder involved more in the passing game.
Then there's defense, where some scouts project Wright will play in college, though he said his three offers are as a running back.
Wright lines up in the free safety position, using his speed to sniff out passes. He recorded two interceptions this season, and is stout enough to wrap up opposing players, ending with 48 total tackles.
While his defensive skills will be on full display when the season kicks off in August, all eyes will be on Wright and on the IHSA all-time statistics.
Wright has 6,212 career rushing yards, already placing him seventh all-time in state history and most in the H&R area. James Robinson of Rockford Lutheran holds the state record with 9,045.
Then there's the rushing touchdown mark. Wright has 85 career rushing touchdowns, placing him in a sixth place tie with Justin Jackson of Glenbard North and Mitch Bierman of Newton. The record is Robinson's 158.
But it's all about Champaign, and returning to the state championship game, this time not leaving empty handed.
"People tell me all the time that I can be the all-time rusher in history," Wright said. "I’ve not looked that up. My main goal is to get that state championship."