Whitewater’s turnaround season continues with 25-14 win
by Christopher Dunn
The Whitewater Wildcats tasted sweet revenge and kept their region title hopes alive with a 25-14 win over the Fayette County Tigers. Last year, the Wildcats struggled badly in a 2-8 campaign, including a 35-0 loss to the Tigers. This season, they are 7-2 and in a three-way tie at the top of the region following Friday’s win.
“We said from the beginning that we expect to win. Nobody’s going to expect you to win, but we expect you to win,” said Whitewater’s first-year head coach Bryan Holley on team’s turnaround. “We told the kids we’re not going to coach average. We’re going to coach you to win, and we go to work every day. These kids have responded. I’m very proud of them.”
Coming off such a tough year, it is the veterans leading the way for the Wildcats. They were determined not to let their high school days end in the dumps.
“Our seniors have stepped up. I’m so proud of our seniors and what they’ve done and the way they’re leading our football team,” praised Holley. “It’s great to see them come together and be one unit, be one family. They’re playing outstanding right now.”
The loss ends Fayette’s hopes of a third straight playoff trip. Crucial injuries hurt them along the way, but the Tigers never stopped battling.
“Hats off to Fayette County,” said Holley. “They played great. They didn’t quit for four quarters.”
The first seconds of the game did not look good for the Cats, but they quickly showed the resolve they’ve shown all season. The opening kickoff sailed down the sideline and bounced, the Whitewater return man mistakenly letting the live ball keep dribbling up the field. Fayette nearly recovered it, but the ball would stay in Whitewater’s possession, forcing them to start at their own 2. Facing 3rd down still in the shadow of their own goalpost, Musa Ali moved the chains with a short run. Isaiah Montgomery added a big chunk, running for 19 yards and dragging defenders with him. A Karlen Samples tackle in the backfield backed up the Cats, but Stone Kasten hit Christian Vermilyea for 9 yards to set up 4th and inches. Kasten kept it on 4th down and moved the chains. Kasten went back to the air, hitting Keoni Malayan on a 34-yard bomb up the sideline. Kevin Zachary surged through the line for a big sack to push the Cats back, forcing them to settle for a 34-yard Liam Voigt field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Fayette quickly handed the ball back, Hunter Williams pouncing on a fumble just outside of the red zone. Montgomery gouged the defense for 24 yards, then sliced them again for a 10-yard score. Zachary blocked the extra point to keep the margin at 9-0.
The Tigers kept shooting themselves in the foot, missing on an option pitch on their next series. They would chase the ball down and fall on it at their 2, but they were too backed up and punted it away. Whitewater took over inside the 40, picking up 25 yards on an Ali run on 3rd and 11. Voigt hit on a 22-yard field goal to give the Cats a 12-0 lead early in the second quarter.
The theme stayed the same for the Tigers as it looked like Jalil Dabney ran the ensuing kickoff back for a touchdown, but it was called back for holding. Trent Carrington and Cory Andrews each picked up a first down before the drive stalled, ending in a missed 34-yard field goal attempt.
Whitewater had their own long score called back, Ali’s 80-yard run negated by a holding call as the 12-0 margin held into halftime.
The Tigers came out determined to start the second half strong, Carrington picking up 15 yards on the first play, 12 yards on another, then chewing up 33 to get into the red zone. Again, they could not capitalize, fumbling the ball away to Grayson Samples on the 5.
Whitewater answered with a 95-yard scoring drive, Kasten running for 14 and hitting Jamal Jenkins for 38 yards through the air. Montgomery finished the series with a 16-yard run up the middle for a 19-0 lead.
Fayette finally got on the board as the clock ran out on the third quarter, Dabney plowing through the defense and sprinting the distance on an 81-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 19-6.
Ali powered the Cats’ answer, jumpstarting the series with a 13-yard run and finishing off the 73-yard drive with a 3-yard plunge for a 25-6 lead.
Desperate to get back in the game, the Tigers found traction on the ground, starting with a 14-yard Zavier Anderson run. Dabney continued his big night, pounding the defense for a 35-yard touchdown run. Dabney finished the night with 136 yards and two touchdowns on only nine carries. Carrington added the two-point conversion to get Fayette within 25-14 with 5:20 left to play. Carrington finished with 92 yards on 14 carries.
Jamarcus Williamson got the Tigers another shot, recovering a fumble at midfield. Fayette went to the air, Malcolm Easterwood hitting Carrington for 17 yards on 4th and 10. Easterwood then lofted a jump ball to Jordan Brown along the sidelines, Brown hauling it in and keeping his feet in bounds for 19 yards. Bradley May burst into the backfield for a big loss, and Ali broke up a 4th down pass, enabling the offense to come back on the field and kneel down to run out the clock for a Wildcat victory.
Isaiah Montgomery finished the night with another big stat line, posting 148 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. Musa Ali added 65 yards and a score on 12 carries.
Tyler Crowder paced the defense with 10 tackles, followed by Grayson Samples with seven, Bradley May with six, and Miles Langston and Christian Vermilyea with five apiece. Eric Ogle tallied two sacks.
Whitewater finishes the regular season on the road this week against McIntosh. Fayette County hosts Starr’s Mill.
Starr’s Mill dominates second half, rolls over Riverdale 48-20
by Dylan Hynson
With only a two weeks left in the regular season, the Starr’s Mill Panthers needed a huge region victory over the Riverdale Raiders Friday night. Behind a record-breaking performance from rushing attack, the Panthers came out victorious with a 48-20 win to keep their region championship hopes alive.
“I’m really proud of the boys,” Panther head coach Chad Phillips said. “Coming off an open week, you sometimes lose some momentum that you might have had before, but the boys played well tonight.”
The Panthers started the game with the ball and wasted little time against the Raiders defense. Junior running back Cole Gilley got the Panthers on the scoreboard with a 5-yard run, putting Starr’s Mill up 7-0. It was just the beginning as they would pile up a school-record 526 yards on the ground for the night.
“For the second game in a row, we won the coin toss and it made all the difference,” Phillips said. “Both weeks, we take the ball down and score on our first possession. It’s a way for us to get momentum on our side.”
The Raiders responded with a 41-yard touchdown to receiver Greg White, his first of two touchdowns on the night to tie the game at 7-7. After a Panther three and out, Riverdale ran the ball six straight times before running back Jalen Hughes ran 32 yards for another Raider score to put them up 14-7 with 1:55 left in the opening quarter.
Gilley responded with his own 32-yard touchdown run for his second score of the night, tying the game at 14. The lead would not last more than a minute as White was found again on a deep ball to add another six points to the Raiders score. Riverdale missed a two-point conversion to make the score 20-14 Raiders with 10:37 left in the second quarter.
“Sometimes you just tip your hat to your opponent,” Phillips said. “They’ve got a quarterback that’s thrown for 1,700 yards on the year, a couple of big receivers, and historically we’ve struggled against athletic teams like Riverdale.”
The Panthers kept it on the ground with Gilley capping off another drive with a touchdown, his third score on the night to give Starr’s Mill a one-point lead with 7:39 left in the half. The Panthers defense finally came up with a stop, forcing the Raiders to punt for the first time in the game.
“Our team is in great physical shape,” Phillips said. “It really helps us when we need to come up with a stop on defense, and we needed a few near the end of the first half to keep ourselves out of a shootout with them.”
Starr’s Mill added to its lead on their next series as Gilley added to his touchdown collection. This time, the junior ran 58 yards into the end zone, giving the Panthers a solid 28-20 lead. It was his fourth touchdown of the game, all coming in the half. He would finish with the 4 touchdowns and 188 yards on the ground. The score would remain the same as the teams went into the locker room for halftime.
“Our offense is really clicking right now,” Phillips said. “Our guys are playing with a ton of confidence right now, and I’m happy with the way they are competing.”
If the first half was the “Cole Gilley show,” then the second half belonged to junior running back Nick Brown. Starr’s Mill came up with a crucial stop on the Raiders first series to get the ball to their dominating offense. The rushing attack got back to work with Brown taking a 38-yard run to the house to widen the Panther lead to 34-10 after a missed extra point due to a bad snap.
The Panthers got another stop on defense, their fourth straight defensive stand since trailing 20-14. They would chew the clock on their next drive, running 11 plays before Brown found the goal line on a 4th and 1 play to increase the Panther lead to 41-10. Brown finished the game with 200 yards rushing to go along with the 2 touchdowns.
“Our running backs are very unselfish,” Phillips said. “They do such a great job blocking for each other. They are the most unselfish unit on the team, and it shows during the game.”
Starr’s Mill began to bring in second string players as they were preserving their stars. Freshman running back Khalen Sims took advantage of his opportunity and found his way into the end zone on a 7-yard run. The score would put the final nail in the coffin for the Raiders as the Panthers came out with a crucial win, 48-20 over Riverdale.
Both teams clinched their tickets to this year’s GHSA playoffs after the other contests were played in the region on Friday. However, the Panthers remain in a fight for a high seed. They will face a defensively sound team in Fayette County next Friday night, and Phillips is making sure his team isn’t looking ahead to that region title game.
“Fayette has three former players or coaches on their side,” Phillips said. “They are going to be very prepared and focused for us, we have to match their preparation.”
McIntosh holds off late Morrow rally for 17-13 victory
by Rob Grubbs
The McIntosh Chiefs were eliminated from playoff contention last week with their loss to Griffin, but at 3-5, coach Lee Belknap’s squad still had the two games remaining on the schedule, the ability to finish the season with a non-losing record, and the chance for the senior class to build momentum for next years’ team. Their last road trip of the season took the Chiefs to Tara Stadium in Jonesboro to face a young and improving Morrow Mustangs in a Region 3-AAAAA contest.
The Chiefs had earlier success on their first visit to Tara this season, beating Mount Zion in a non-region contest, and they would continue their good fortune by holding off the pesky Mustangs 17-13 and improving to 4-5.
The Chiefs started the game fast, with their defense holding the Mustangs on downs on their first drive with a tackle for loss on quarterback Kristopher Clark by Alex Seymour and then a sack by Ryan Sanders as the key plays. The defense gave the ball to their offense on the 29 yard line and watched running back Bradley Ector break off chunks of yardage, including a 33-yard run and an 8-yard touchdown run, and the Chiefs were up 7-0 after the Jake Donaldson extra point midway through the first quarter.
The Chief defense held once again and Belknap countered the slashing style of Ector with the bruising runs of Zach Seymour, including a 21-yard romp into Mustang territory, but the drive stalled and Donaldson kicked a 36-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter for a 10-0 lead.
On their next possession, Belknap came back with Ector and the offense drove down field again, this time aided by a key 8-yard pass from Zach Sanders to Kyle Riesselmann for eight yards on 4th down and then watching Ector take the next carry 21 yards to the end zone for a 17-0 midway through the second quarter on what seemed to be a developing rout. Little did anyone on the Chiefs sideline know these were the last points they would score for the evening, and they would need almost every one of them.
The Chiefs seemed to be well on their away to a blowout win, but the young Mustangs, who have taken their share of growing pains and big losses this year, also came to play and salvage something of their season. On their Senior Night, they embarked on an their first impressive drive of the starting, starting at their own 20, mixing in the running of Christian Willis and Clark, a couple of passes, and a McIntosh penalty to move into Chief territory with a fresh set of downs. It appeared the Mustangs would put some pressure on the Chiefs before halftime, but a key pass break up by Zach Anderson on first down and an interception by Danile Blair on third down ended the scoring threat and the Chiefs went into half up by 17. It would not seem to be at the moment, but these two plays would be critical to the outcome of the game.
After halftime, it was obvious Morrow was not conceding the contest, and, after a quick stop of the Chiefs’ opening offensive drive, the Mustangs started at the own 17 and moved downfield quickly, including a 47-yard pass and finishing up with a 15-yard touchdown run by Tabious Clemons to cut the lead to 17-7.
On the Mustangs’ next possession, they faced a 4th and 1, but the Chief defensive front stuffed Clark’s keeper and took over on downs, only to immediately turned the ball over with a fumble to give the ball right back to the Mustangs on their 42 yard line. The Chiefs seemed to be scuffling just a bit after the dominant first half, but the Chief defense had just begun a sequence of key stops at key moments.
After the turnover, Morrow drove deep into Chief territory, but a pass break up by Zach Anderson on third down stopped the Mustang drive on the Chief 19. On the ensuing field goal attempt, Anderson reached the kicker at the same moment he kicked the ball for what was actually a smothered field goal as opposed to a blocked kick, and the Chiefs made their second key stop of the second half that closed out the third quarter.
In the fourth, Morrow continued to find ways to move the ball downfield, and, even though the drive stalled, they executed a fake punt to keep momentum rolling their way until the Chief defense made their third and last key stop of the evening. Senior linebacker Brody King recovered a fumble to stop the drive.
Morrow started their last possession of the game with three minutes left to play down by 10 on their 26 yard line. The Mustangs appeared to have scored on a 40-yard touchdown, but it was called back for a holding penalty downfield. They would score quickly in the next two plays and with a missed extra point, they were only down by four with 53 seconds remaining.
It was up to McIntosh to control the onside quick to run out the clock, which they did. However, since Morrow had all three timeouts remaining, it was also going to require a Chief first down to secure the game completely. Facing a 3rd and 8 on their 46 yard line and 34 seconds remaining, Belknap showed the confidence he had in Sanders and the offense, and instead of going the conservative route which could give Morrow a few moments for a desperation pass, he called a pass play and Sanders found Jack Dee for an 18 yard pass for the first down that allowed for the victory kneel down play.
After the game, Belknap was encouraged, “We had a great week of practice which showed early in our quick start. Obviously, we would have liked to have played better in the second half as a team, but our defense came through when we needed them, and I am proud of them finishing the game.”
On his gutsy call on 3rd down to end the game, he said, “We thought about running the ball, but we wanted to put this one away.”
Ector finished the game with 137 yards and 2 touchdowns on 18 carries and Seymour added 99 yards on 17 carries.
The Chiefs close out their 2016 season with a home game against country rival Whitewater High School on Friday night.
OLM blanks Fulton Leadership Academy in dominant 47-0 win
by Rasheed Mumuney
While it has been a tough season for the Our Lady of Mercy Bobcats, they certainly had a lot to smile about on Friday night with a dominant 47-0 victory over the Fulton Leadership Academy Gryphons.
The Bobcat offense set the tone early with an opening drive touchdown capped off by a run by quarterback Garrison Hand for a 6-0 lead after an unsuccessful two-point conversion.
Following a failed fourth down conversion by the Gryphon offense, courtesy of a stingy Bobcats defense, the Bobcats offense struck again with a 54-yard touchdown run by running back Caleb Pressley. A subsequent two-point conversion gave the Bobcats a 14-0 lead with 6:25 left in the first quarter.
After a three and out by the Gryphon offense, Bobcats wide receiver George Haynes returned a punt to the Gryphons 12 yard line, but the return was negated by a blocking in the back penalty. Haynes would have his moment back and then some with a touchdown reception. A missed extra point by left the Bobcats with a 20-0 lead.
The Bobcat defense continued their dominant first quarter performance by stifling the Gryphons offense for another three and out. The offense kept its foot on the pedal as Hand threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Pressley on their next series for a 27-0 lead with 46 seconds left in the first quarter.
The second quarter started with more of the same from the Gryphon offense as it continued to pose not much of a threat to the Bobcats with a turnover on downs. Starting at their own 34 yard line, the Bobcats hoped to continue their onslaught of the Gryphons. However, a holding penalty on the Bobcats hampered the drive that resulted in their first three and out with 9:39 left in the quarter. The Gryphons were unable to build momentum off of its defense’s rare stop and ended the ensuing possession with another three and out.
Starting from the Gryphons 47 yard line, the Bobcats went back to work on their next possession. It started with a 27-yard burst by Pressley to the 20. On the next play, Hand was sacked one of the rare successful plays by the Gryphons. Nevertheless, Hand retaliated with an electric 30-yard touchdown run. The Bobcats kept the good times rolling as they faked the extra point and scored a two-point conversion to increase their lead to 35-0 with 5:11 left in the second quarter. The Gryphon offense finally recorded a first down with 3:17 left in the second quarter, but was unable to do much to build off it.
The third quarter produced arguably the highlight of the game, a 60-yard punt return touchdown by Haynes for his second trip to the end zone on the evening. A missed extra point after the score resulted in 41-0 lead for the Bobcats.
Although the time of possession started to go in favor of the Gryphons as the quarter progressed, it was to no avail. A roughing the kicker penalty on the Bobcats with 4:54 left in the third quarter provided the Gryphons with the potential to get on the board, but the Bobcats once again were an insurmountable wall and stopped the Gryphons from advancing. The offense added to their tally with a 39-yard touchdown run by Garrison Hand to end the third quarter with a 47-0 lead after a missed extra point.
The Gryphons started to move the chains a little bit in the fourth quarter, but the defense never broke. Even after a facemask penalty that placed the Gryphon offense at the Bobcat 23 yard line, the defense would not be denied, preserving the shutout to go along with their dominating victory.
The win is a big one for a young team that has been through a difficult season.
“We’ve played a really tough schedule, but every week they’ve gotten a little bit better,” Bobcats head coach Jamie Aull said. “As long as we keep doing that, you can look for bright things from this group in the future.”
The win moves the young Bobcats to 3-6 on the season with a 2-4 regional record. Their next matchup is a home game on November 4 against the 4-5 Holy Innocents Episcopal Golden Bears.