With their 14-7 football win over Western Hills on Friday night, the Henry County Wildcats climbed to 6-2 overall and claimed the Class 3-A, District Four regular-season championship.
No matter how the Wildcats play against Spencer County this Friday or against Gallatin County on Oct. 30, they have already secured the district championship and are guaranteed to at least host one game in the state playoffs. With two games left before the postseason, Henry is 2-0 against District Four opponents, Western Hills and North Oldham are 1-1 each and Spencer is 0-2. Win or lose Friday night, the Wildcats are district champs.
“I certainly hope this doesn’t take the pressure off our players,” HCHS coach Chris Engstrand pointed out as he prepares his team for the final two weeks. “We seem to play very well with our backs against the wall. I hope we don’t take our foot off the accelerator. We need to take command of the final two games and take two big wins into the playoffs. If anything, now is the time to put it all together.”
Engstrand, who coached for Western Hills before he jumped over to Henry in 2006, said his squad played really well on defense but he has mixed emotions about the overall play. Henry scored its first touchdown early in the first quarter, Western Hills tied the game late in the second and Henry went ahead for good with 5:10 left in the third. The contest came down to the wire with Henry moving the ball for 199 yards total offense (145 rushing, 54 passing) and Western Hills moving the ball for 202 (104 rushing, 98 passing). Western was threatening to score in its final drive but came up just short.
“I have mixed feelings about how well we played versus how bad we played,” Engstrand said. “There were times we did things very well and times we did things very bad. Western Hills did a good job of testing us. We did make the plays when we needed to.”
The Wildcats won the coin toss and elected to receive the opening kick. They moved the ball up field with a few short passes before quarterback Luke Magness faked a handoff and sprinted down the right sideline for an impressive 50-yard touchdown run. Dylan Doll kicked the extra point to put the Cats in front 7-0 less than two minutes into the contest.
Western Hills tied the score with 3:08 left in the second quarter when Dylan Curry, a University of Louisville signee who plays quarterback for the Wolverines, scored on a 5-yard carry.
With the game knotted up, Erick Butler made a game-altering catch during the third quarter when he jumped in the air to snag a pass thrown from Magness. The 9-yard pass play and another kick by Doll put the Wildcats ahead 14-7. Neither team scored again.
“Butler had a heck of a catch to give us the lead,” Engstrand said of the senior who plays linebacker and tight end. “That’s the thing about this team — our players find a way to win. That’s the difference of this team versus some of the teams we had here in the past. They just find a way to get the job done.”
The Wildcats had six penalties worth 50 yards, fumbled the ball three times and threw one interception. Engstrand said there were 21 points they left on the field. Meanwhile, Western Hills had four penalties for 30 yards and four fumbles.
Magness finished 9-of-21 passing for 54 yards and one touchdown throw with Pete Baldwin catching three passes for a team-high 26 yards. Magness also kept the ball 14 times for 88 yards and Baldwin took 10 handoffs for 54. Baldwin, Butler, Darien Ingram and Justin Hartlage recovered one fumble each.
After the 6-2 start, the Wildcats will travel to Spencer this Friday night in their final district game and host Gallatin the following weekend in the regular-season finale. Friday night’s game in Taylorsville starts at 7:30 p.m. Spencer is 3-5 overall and defeated Henry in last year’s showdown, 38-25.
“We’re going to come out in a hostile environment and play a tough team. It’ll be good for our kids,” Engstrand said. “Then, we’re going to play a smash-mouth football team in Gallatin County the following week. We need to close out the regular season with two big wins.”
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