Whitewater looked to wipe the slate clean on Friday night. After a tough non-region gauntlet, the Wildcats returned to Region 3-AAAAA action as they welcomed the Griffin Bears to Wildcats Stadium.
Both teams came into the game searching for an identity. Griffin hoped to build momentum and confidence in their young team. Whitewater searched for normalcy as key players Hunter Williams and Elijah Roland returned from injury.
In a back and forth game, Griffin’s aerial attack proved to be the difference. The Bears outscored the Wildcats 27 to 11 in the second half and rode to a 39-18 victory.
Griffin improved to 3-2 on the season and secured their first region win. Whitewater dropped to 0-5 on the season.
“I thought we took some good strides this week in getting better with execution and running our offense,” Holley said. “We ran the football and we played great defense. Our kids are fighting and battling and we will be alright.”
Whitewater got off to hot start. They took the opening drive into the red zone with junior quarterback Maddox Mueller orchestrating the offense. He found three different receivers and had the Wildcats knocking on the doorstep.
However, the offense stalled late. A corresponding field goal was no good as missed opportunities became the theme of the night.
The Bears jumped took advantage behind sophomore quarterback Quamari Williams. He exploited the secondary with big plays in the passing game. Williams was electric as he threw three touchdowns. He also added a 9-yard rushing touchdown.
In the first quarter, Williams put Griffin on the board with an 80-yard touchdown strike to Jamoi Mayes. The Bears went up 6-0 and held the lead going into the second quarter.
Whitewater responded as Mueller started to connect with Hunter Williams down the field. The duo turned short passes into long gains. They also stretched Griffin’s defense with deep go-routes that Williams caught with regularity.
“We had spurts and got some big plays,” Holley said. “That is what we needed as we saw we can push the field vertically a little bit and put defenses on their heels.”
With Griffin on their heels, Mueller gave the Wildcats the lead with a 63-yard touchdown. He rumbled down the sideline and into the end zone. Mueller completed 10 of 26 passes for 204 yards. He finished with a touchdown and interception on the night.
The lead was short-lived as the Bears scored with 57 seconds left in the first half. Quamari Williams found Terrell Jester for an 8-yard touchdown. After a missed two-point conversion, the Bears took a 12-7 lead into halftime.
In the second half, Griffin started to turn up the pressure. On the third play of the half, wide receiver Amanuel McDowell got loose for an 82-yard touchdown. He later caught a 50-yard pass that set up the Williams rushing touchdown.
On defense, the Bears blitzed heavily and got into the backfield. Mueller was under pressure and got hit on occasion. Still, he guided the Wildcats down the field with a beautiful touchdown pass to Hunter Williams. He later hit Zach Betsill for the two-point conversion to draw Whitewater within 10 points.
“(Mueller) got beat up a little bit, but he continued to play hard,” Holley said. “He is a great kid and a warrior. He is going to do everything that he can and did a great job tonight.”
Griffin wouldn’t go away. Jordan Favors scored a 65-yard touchdown to effectively put the game out of reach. The Wildcats added a field goal late, but the Bears held firm to head back home victorious.
“Our goal is to get better and better each week,” Griffin head coach Antonio Andrews said. “Whitewater is better than what their record shows. They have played four good teams and they are a lot better. I wish them well for the rest of the season.”
Despite the loss, Whitewater proved that things are heading in the right direction. The offense looked crisp and gained a lot of yards. Hunter Williams and Roland didn’t miss a beat and Jackson Van Meter had two interceptions.
Roland rushed for 85 yards on 16 carries. Williams hauled in four catches for 136 yards and a touchdown.
“They are key players as you can see tonight,” Holley said. “We will get everybody back and get things clicking. I have faith in our kids.”
Holley believes they can make a run as the season progresses. He said it starts again next week with Jonesboro.
“We are going to work on Monday and the season is not over,” Holley said. “We are going to clean some things up, look at the film, and continue to get better.”