One team set themselves up for a home playoff game, and one is now on the outside of the playoffs looking in. That’s life in a tightly-contested region as the postseason picture comes into focus after Whitewater’s 35-21 road win over Fayette County Friday night.
A sluggish first half with a narrow lead gave way to a dominant third quarter as the Wildcats stretched their lead out from seven points to 28 to put the game out of reach.
“We didn’t execute real well offensively in the first half. I thought we shot ourselves in the foot a few times,” said Whitewater coach Bryan Holley. “I was proud of the kids and the way we came out in the second half and executed.”
A late Tiger rally couldn’t bridge the gap the Cats built. The offensive line of Jake Burns, Parker Pridgen, Grayson Bullard, Zachary Outhavong, and Miles Langston was able to control the trenches in the third quarter to build up the lead.
“We take pride in figuring things out and making adjustments at halftime,” said Holley of his line. “They’re good at that. They’re a veteran line, and they do a great job.”
Whitewater started the game quickly, scoring on their opening possession. A 15-yard completion from Maddox Mueller to Nolan Wallace on a swing pass pushed them deep into Tiger territory. Facing a 4th and 2, Miles Montgomery slipped through the middle for a 17-yard touchdown. Evan Rogers, who was 5 for 5 on the night, added the extra point for a 7-0 lead.
After forcing a fumble defensively, the Cats took to the air for their second score. Mueller hit Jamal Jenkins streaking behind the defense for a 51-yard touchdown and a two-touchdown lead.
Their offense started to bog down, handing away Fayette’s first points of the night. Deep in their own territory, Mueller tried to shuffle the ball away under pressure, but Karlen Samples read it and picked it off, taking it to the house for a touchdown. Aaron Hauck, who was 3 for 3 on the night, added the point after.
Whitewater’s next series pushed into the red zone, but a leaping and twisting interception by Reggie Booker turned them away.
The Cats tried to score one more time before the half. On 4th and 11, Mueller connected with Jenkins for 22 yards, but an Evilio Nixon breakup in the end zone forced them to settle for a kick. The 34-yard field goal attempt missed just wide to the left to send it into halftime 14-7.
The Mueller-Jenkins connection worked again at the outset of the second half. Running a short hitch route, Jenkins caught the ball and broke through a pair of tackles, sprinting the distance for a 36-yard touchdown.
A Dalton Goodman fumble recovery set Whitewater up again in enemy territory. Kyris Barnett capped off a methodical scoring drive with a 4-yard scoring run.
Forcing a turnover on downs to take over at midfield, the Cats put the game out of reach with a 12-yard touchdown run by Mueller to make it 35-7 with under two minutes left in the third quarter.
Fayette County’s passing attack clicked into gear in the final frame as JeKobe Coleman used his mobility to buy time for his receivers to get open. He found Booker streaking past the defense and hit him for a 61-yard touchdown. On their last possession, Coleman converted a 4th and 10 by scrambling until Cory Andrews came open for a 21-yard gain. Booker hauled in another 19-yard reception, and Andrews capped off the night’s scoring on an 8-yard touchdown catch from Coleman for the final 35-21 margin.
With the win, Whitewater (6-3, 4-1) locked up a playoff spot, but their seeding is uncertain. They stayed in the three-way tie atop the region though in second and will need to beat McIntosh this week to open up the playoffs at home.
“We don’t want to look too far ahead,” said Holley of facing an improving Chief team. “They’re a great football team, and they’re going to be very well coached. They’re going to be out to get us.”
Fayette County (3-6, 2-3), having lost three straight games, now faces a win or stay home game against Starr’s Mill after seeing the tiebreaker for the fourth slot slip to the Chiefs.
However the playoffs shake out, the Wildcats will be glad to be there.
“We’re going to take it one game at a time and see where the good lord puts us.”
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