With the regular season rapidly winding down, victories are extra important for teams with playoff aspirations, and Whitewater kept their dreams alive with a crucial 26-16 road win over Fayette County Friday night.
The Cats had to play with guts and determination to hold on for the win. After building up a 13-point lead early, they let the Tigers rally to tie the game early in the fourth quarter. With their season on the line, they responded with 10-straight points to win and stay alive.
“The kids played a great game. Fayette County had a good game plan, and our kids kept fighting,” said Whitewater coach Bryan Holley. “We came back and finished. Our kids aren’t going to quit, they’re going to give effort.”
The Wildcats showed their steely resolve from the outset. Emmanuel Orusa sniffed out their first play for a loss, and they twice faced 3rd and 13 or more. The first time quarterback Maddox Mueller kept it himself for 23 yards, and the second time he lofted it over the top to Aaron Jones for a sensational fingertip catch and a 39-yard gain. Evan Rogers capped off the drive with a 24-yard field goal, his first of four on the night, for a 3-0 lead.
Rogers was huge throughout the game, accounting for 14 of Whitewater’s points.
“That’s huge,” said Holley. “We’ve gotta have that, and if we don’t have that, we don’t win this ball game.”
Rogers added a 35-yard field goal on their second possession for a 6-0 lead, and junior running back Silas Rhodes broke off his first big run of the night for a 64-yard touchdown to extend the gap to 13-0.
The Wildcat defense shut down the Tigers for most of the first half, with TJ Hill, Terry Brown, Trevor Golubeff contributing key sacks.
Fayette finally got on the board late in the half. Kyle Butler set them up in excellent field position with a kick return out near midfield. Sophomore quarterback Dustin Waters picked up a pair of first downs, one on a pass to Joshua Thomas and one on a scramble. Owen Mikoy finished off the drive with a 27-yard field goal to make it 13-3 heading into halftime.
The Tigers built on the momentum coming out of the break. Waters executed a perfect play-action fake and hit Thomas over the middle for a 53-yard catch and run. Facing 4th down deep in the red zone, the pair connected again for a five-yard touchdown to pull within 13-10.
Mueller answered for the Cats, but it came at a cost. He moved the chains with a pass to Colin Watson and then ran for 36 yards, but he would leave the game with an injury, and the drive ended with a 20-yard Rogers field goal.
With Mueller out of the game, Whitewater turned to Rhodes to carry the load, and he responded with 178 yards and 2 touchdowns on 19 carries.
“This is the first time he’s really gotten loose and been able to run the football out in the open field,” said Holley. “Silas stepped up big.”
Rhodes’s plan was simple. His team needed him, and he knew what he had to do to put the Cats on his back.
“I had to be patient, and I had to run hard,” said Rhodes.
Fayette kept rolling, closing the third quarter with a 25-yard completion from Watson to Thomas. At the start of the fourth, a familiar face struck for the Tigers as Miles Montgomery punched it in from two yards out. Montgomery started his career at Whitewater before moving to Woodward Academy last year. Montgomery transferred to Fayette prior to last week’s game, and he’s already making an impact with his new team.
Montgomery’s touchdown made it 16-16, but they would not take the lead as Whitewater surged through the line and blocked the extra point.
After a Whitewater three-and-out, their special teams would make another big play. Fayette’s drive stalled and they could not execute the snap on the ensuing punt, setting up the Cats just outside the red zone.
Rhodes made sure the prime field position wasn’t wasted, scoring from two yards out with 5:30 left to play.
Another Fayette three-and-out gave Whitewater a chance to ice the game, and they didn’t waste it. Facing 3rd and 4 near midfield with the prospect of punting back to the Tigers, Rhodes sliced through the middle of the line for 50 yards, setting up a clinching 23-yard Rogers field goal.
Sacks from Golubeff and Hill ended Fayette’s last-ditch rally before it could get start, sealing the 26-16 victory.
Whitewater controls their own destiny now. With a win over McIntosh in the regular season finale this week, they will return to the playoffs.
“Our offensive line stepped up big. Our receivers stepped up their blocking. The defense stepped up and played a great game,” said Holley. “It was just a Whitewater win all-around.”