Whitewater topples Starr’s Mill 45-37 on wild finish
by Dylan Hynson
The rivalry between the Whitewater Wildcats and the Starr’s Mill Panthers got intense last Friday night. After a week of trash talk between the two sides, the Wildcats came away with a huge region victory, but not without some controversy as they escaped with a 45-37 win.
“This was not one of those games you had to give a presume speech for,” Wildcat head coach Bryan Holley said. “There was not a doubt in my mind that these two teams were ready to play a football game.”
The game began with the Wildcats driving down the field, getting all the way inside the 10-yard line. They fumbled a few plays later, a problem that’s haunted Whitewater in many games, to give the ball to the Panthers. Whitewater would not let that rattle them, as the defense forced a fumble a few plays later to get the ball back to their offense. It didn’t take long to redeem themselves as Wildcat senior quarterback Stone Kasten found Jamal Jenkins for a 14-yard touchdown to give the Cats a 7-0 lead.
The Panthers tried to respond to the Wildcat score, but fumbled for the second time, giving Whitewater the ball back around midfield. Whitewater took advantage of the short field, as senior running back Isaiah Montgomery ran in his first touchdown of the night from four yards out to make it 14-0 with 2:36 left in the first quarter.
“We had a tough time handling the ball due to the rain during warmups,” Panther head coach Chad Phillips said. “Not to make excuses, but we couldn’t handle the wet ball. We haven’t had a problem with turnovers all year long, but when we do it creates big problems for us.”
Starr’s Mill found themselves down 14-0 and needed to find their grip in the game. The Panthers would drive down the field in nine plays, finding the end zone on a 28-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Joey DeLuca to junior Mitch Prowant to cut the lead in half.
Missed tackles killed the Panthers defensively all night long, and it didn’t take long for the Wildcats to take advantage of that. Montgomery scored his second touchdown from a yard out to give the Cats a 21-7 lead with 4:18 left in the second quarter. Montgomery took advantage of the sloppy tackling to pile up 230 yards on the night.
“We practice tackling every single day,” Phillips said. “We’ve got to continue to practice this, but [Whitewater] is very athletic and historically, we’ve struggled against athletic teams.”
Starr’s Mill answered the touchdown as junior running back Cole Gilley scored a 6-yard touchdown to make it 21-14 late in the half.
The Wildcats found themselves with great field position after a long kickoff return all the way down into Panther territory. Missed tackles were the key to the long return, setting up Wildcat kicker Liam Voigt for a last second 45-yard field goal to make it a two score game at the half.
“We knew they were getting the ball to start the second half and if they scored then it would be a tie game,” Holley said. “We needed to get something going because we knew [Starr’s Mill] is a second half team.”
The second half began with the Panthers down two scores and getting the ball to start the half. The Panthers scored a huge field goal from sophomore kicker Michael Lantz to make it 24-17 Wildcats.
Whitewater continued to pile it on as senior running back Musa Ali punched in a
3-yard touchdown to increase the lead to 31-17.
The back-and-forth scoring continued as Gilley would score two minutes later on a 4-yard run to keep the Panthers in the ball game as the fourth quarter began.
A huge 33-yard touchdown run from Montgomery after breaking several tackles and a two-point conversion seemed to ice the game as the Wildcats took a 39-24 lead with only nine minutes left in the game. The Panthers had been resilient all year long, coming back from down 14 the week before against Griffin. They had been here before, but could they do it again?
After the Whitewater touchdown, the Panthers responded quickly with junior running back Nick Brown scoring his first touchdown on an 18-yard run to cut the lead to eight points.
On the ensuing kickoff, Whitewater found some running room on the squib kick, but fumbled the ball and gave it right back to the Panthers. The next play, Brown scored on a terrific run, spinning a defender out of his shoes on a 30-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion attempt would fail and keep the Wildcats in the lead by two with 6:54 left in the game
“Brown is running with a lot of passion,” Phillips said. “All three of our running backs are being selfless, blocking for each other, not getting upset with the amount of touches. That’s why our offense is moving so well right now.”
Whitewater was not about to let the Panthers come back and win the ball game and began to chew the clock on their next drive. They picked up a huge first down after a penalty pushed them back, but the Panthers got their stop with 3:01 to go in the game. They got the ball back at the 17-yard line, needing only a field goal to win the ball game.
“The emotion was there for our defense when it wasn’t there most of the game,” Phillips said. “They played with so much passion when their backs were against the wall.”
The Panthers drove up to midfield before facing a critical fourth down. After three timeouts and what seemed like a century, the Panthers drew a Wildcat defender offsides with a hard count to grant them a first down and keep the drive alive.
“We called two straight timeouts just telling our guys ‘don’t jump the snap,'” Holley said. “It’s unfortunate that the player jumped because he had a great game. That play won’t define his performance in the game.”
The Panthers kept moving and got all the way down to the 1-yard line with only seconds left. They would see an illegal procedure penalty negate a touchdown with 16 seconds left and back them up to the 6-yard line. Needing to spike the ball instead of running a play, DeLuca got everyone to the line quickly. He bobbled the snap and dropped the football, but picked it up immediately and spiked the ball. An official threw his white bean bag, signaling a fumble, and Whitewater linebacker Eric Ogle picked the ball up and no one stopped him from racing the length of the field with no time left to seal a 45-37 win for the Wildcats.
Students began to rush the field, players ringing the victory bell as Phillips argued his case to the refs. It was unsuccessful due to the lack of replay in high school and the Wildcats escaped with a win on a controversial ending.
Adding to the confusion, the officials also threw a flag on Starr’s Mill for intentional grounding. By rule, intentional grounding can only occur on a forward pass, meaning it could not be grounding and a fumble at the same time. The officials did not wave off the grounding flag, as would be proper if they ruled the play a fumble, instead they allowed the Whitewater coaches to decline the penalty.
“I was in such disbelief by the whole thing,” Holley said. “The last thing I remember was the clock hitting zero with our guy running down the field. I can’t say it was the right or wrong call, but it happens.”
The final play will be talked about for years to come, as to whether or not it was a fumble or a spike, but at the end of the day, the Wildcats came away with a huge region win over Starr’s Mill, forcing a three-way tie for second between the two rivals and Griffin. It’s still early in region play, but as it stands, Griffin, Starr’s Mill, and Whitewater all have wins over each other and could force a tiebreaker rule to come into play near playoff time.
“We can’t sit back and think that we are in control because we aren’t,” Holley said. “We’re going to take this one game at a time, but this win definitely puts us in position to make the playoffs.”
The Panthers will look to rebound this Friday as they take on rival McIntosh at home. Phillips says that his team will look to get revenge from this loss, but know that McIntosh is no run-over with their talented running back Bradley Ector. As for Whitewater, they get a much needed bye week before facing the top region team Riverdale on the road. puts us in position to make the playoffs.”
The Panthers will look to rebound this Friday as they take on rival McIntosh at home. Phillips says that his team will look to get revenge from this loss, but know that McIntosh is no run-over with their talented running back Bradley Ector. As for Whitewater, they get a much needed bye week before facing the top region team Riverdale on the road.
Fayette County stuffs McIntosh 7-3 in defensive battle
by Christopher Dunn
Fayette County spoiled McIntosh’s homecoming, upending the Chiefs 7-3 in a low-scoring slugfest Friday night.
“Those are two good teams. That was a great game,” said Fayette coach Mike Davis. “If you missed this game, you missed a good football game.”
The game looked like it would be filled with fireworks early. Bradley Ector returned the opening kickoff all the way back to the Fayette 6 to set his Chiefs up in great field position. The Tiger defense stood strong, Kevin Zachary surging into the backfield for a big loss and forcing a field goal attempt. Jake Donaldson drilled the 37-yard field goal for a 3-0 McIntosh lead just over a minute into the game.
Fayette started their first possession strong, Trent Carrington and Cory Andrews both moving the chains. They added a bit of trickery to convert a third down, Carrington hitting Reggie Booker for 31 yards on a halfback pass. The next time the Tigers tried to catch the Chiefs sleeping it didn’t work so well, Trey Williams sniffing out a flea flicker, sacking the quarterback, and punching the ball loose for a Jace Curry fumble recovery.
Fayette quickly returned the favor on the next play, Karlen Samples stripping the ball and Nathan Beamon falling on it.
The teams traded failed drives, Fayette setting up a huge swing in momentum with the help of a big Matthew McGuire takedown in the backfield. The Chiefs were forced to punt and it went awry, the punter missing the ball and barely dribbling it back to the line of scrimmage. While most of the players had already run downfield, Easterwood was heads up, scooping up the ball and notching one of the more unconventional punt return touchdowns you could see. Savior Steele added the extra point for a 7-3 Fayette lead, the final points of the game coming less than a minute into the second quarter.
Neither offense could get into gear against sturdy defenses, the last good effort of the first half coming when Dane Kinamon set the Chiefs up past midfield with a great punt return. Facing 3rd and long, Zach Sanders scrambled for eight yards, not enough for a first down and sending the game to halftime.
Midway through the third quarter, Fayette started on the Chief 27, but could not gain much ground. Settling for a 42-yard field goal, they would be turned away by a blocked kick.
After Jamarcus Williamson stunted the next drive with a sack, McIntosh’s Caleb Podolski crushed a punt all the way down to the Tiger 14. Zavier Anderson moved the chains on the first play, and Easterwood picked up another first down, but a drop on a deep pass ended the push early in the fourth quarter.
McIntosh swung for the fences, but Fayette’s star safety Carrington made a leaping interception.
Fayette tried to build off Carrington’s pick, Anderson running for 11 yards on first down, but that would be all they got.
McIntosh’s last gasp drive started on their own 17. Sanders scrambled for a first down on the first snap, then he went to the air for a pair of first downs, but the drive would stall just inside Tiger territory.
The Chiefs gambled that they could get one more stop and get the ball back, punting it away, but the Tigers came through in the clutch.
Easterwood ran for a huge 16-yard chunk and smartly slid down in bounds to keep the clock moving. Carrington followed with a 14-yard run, and Easterwood picked up one more first down with 1:32 left to play, allowing the Tigers to run out the clock.
Fayette County piled up 187 yards rushing, led by Malcolm Easterwood with 61 and Zavier Anderson with 59. The Tiger defense was absolutely suffocating, allowing just 73 total yards of offense.