by Riley Hicks
At this point last season, the McIntosh Chiefs and Whitewater Wildcats were preparing for a run in the state playoffs, and both thought that would be the case again this year, but after struggling to earn wins in region play, both sides will stay home for the playoffs. Coming into Friday night, neither team saw this game as their last but more as a game of pride and bragging rights. Through the first half, the teams were neck-and-neck, but in the second half the Chiefs found their defense and ran away with a 46-19 victory.
“All week we promoted finish but not only finish but finish strong,” said McIntosh head coach Lee Belknap. “It is a tough spot for both us and Whitewater to be in. Last year both of us were headed to the state playoffs at this time, and you’re just trying to keep your kids’ focus, and ours were able to do that tonight.”
With quarterback Maddox Mueller still out with an injury, the Wildcats once again turned to Austen Millians to run the offense. On their opening possession, Millians, with the help of Elijah Roland, drove right down the field and scored a touchdown on a 17-yard run by Roland around the left side and diving for the end zone. Following a missed extra point, the Wildcats led 6-0.
The Chiefs tried to answer back on their first drive, but a fumble by Dane Kinamon caused by Whitewater’s Micah Binford and recovered by Will Lewis set the Wildcats up at the Chief 32-yard line.
Unable to capitalize on the great field position, Whitewater’s Brennen Schmitt pinned McIntosh up at the 1-yard line with a perfect punt. In just two plays, the Chiefs covered the length of the field. Ryan Cate took a jet sweep around the left in and turned on the jets, leaving the Wildcats in the dust on one of the longest plays in school history, a 94-yard touchdown run.
“It’s all about the other guys. It was my first run (of the night), so I wasn’t really expecting that,” Cate said, who was winded after the play but elated. “I was definitely feeling it, but it felt awesome. It’s all on my offensive line working hard.”
Cate was quick to deflect the credit, but his coach had plenty of praise for him.
“He is really why you coach high school football and what high school football is all about,” Belknap said. “He has more fight in him than Rocky, and I am proud to just be on the sideline with him.”
Whitewater went back to Roland and the strong running game, as he scored his second touchdown of the night. It would be on the same play as his first touchdown, this time from 11 yards out. After a failed two-point conversion, the Wildcats led 12-7.
It took only one play for the Chiefs to answer back and retake the lead. Kinamon made up for his early fumble by breaking open a 65-yard run, sprinting untouched down the left sideline and into the end zone. McIntosh led again at 14-12, and they would not trail again.
A few possessions later following a bubbled snap from Millians, the Chiefs went back to work on offense and let Kinamon lead the way once again. He capped off the drive with a 5-yard run for a touchdown, and a quarterback keeper by Hayes Herzog for two points made it a 22-12 lead.
Trying to keep pace with the Chiefs, Whitewater needed a score before going into the half. Luckily for the Wildcats, they could rely on Hunter Williams to make catches and move the ball down the field in chunks. After a miscommunication in the Chief defense, Millians found Williams wide-open over the top for a 59-yard touchdown closing the gap to 22-19 at the half.
McIntosh opened the second half with the ball and drove right down the heart of the Wildcat defense and capped off the series with a touchdown. Whitewater almost made a stand after stopping McIntosh three times at the one, but on fourth down the offensive line opened a hole for Kinamon to scoot through for his third touchdown to widen his team’s lead to 29-19.
After both defenses looked nonexistent in the first half, one team had to find an answer to shut down the other, and the Chiefs were the one do it, shutting out the Wildcats after the break.
“I think we were just trying to do a little too much,” Belknap said about the first half. “We just had to slow down a little bit and make a few plays. In any game it comes down to who is able to execute and who doesn’t.”
Whitewater’s offense went completely silent in the second half as they struggled to move the ball down the field. With the Cats unable to stop their ground game, McIntosh kept the clock running and only allowed the Whitewater offense three possessions in the second half. The only time the Wildcats were close to scoring was when they attempted a field goal only to have it blocked by McIntosh and returned by Reece Hildebrand out to the Whitewater 45.
The prime field position allowed the Chiefs to extend their lead with a 26-yard field goal by William Mason to go up 32-19. Mason also finished the night 5 for 5 on extra points.
McIntosh scored on each of its possessions in a flawless second half. The Chiefs closed out the game, just their second-ever win over Whitewater, with a 15-yard run from Kinamon and a 4-yard score from Cate, the perfect way for these two seniors to end their journey in a McIntosh jersey. Kinamon racked up 191 yards and 4 touchdowns on 26 attempts, while Cate added 129 yards and 2 scores on 10 attempts.
“It feels awesome, all four years of hard work paying off in a big win like that,” said Cate.
Kinamon agreed, especially capping off a trying year on a high note.
“It feels good, especially for the guys that really worked hard. They deserve it, and we were playing for them,” he said. “It was good to get a win for them and the coaches, because we know how hard they work.”
McIntosh finishes the season with a 3-7 record, while Whitewater ends with a 1-9 mark.
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