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Cats dominate county showdown

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Both teams now 5-1 a month away from post-season play

By The Staff

By Tommie Kendall

Sports editor

For a game that was hyped to be a county showdown between undefeated Eminence and a Henry County squad coming off its first loss of the season, Henry wasted no time in putting the Warriors away as the Wildcats scored less than a minute into the contest and never looked back.

While the Warriors struggled to move the ball, Henry pushed it up field at will. The Wildcats scored 14 points in the first quarter, 27 points in a big second, and seven points in both the third and fourth for the unchallenged 49-point victory. Eminence managed to squeeze in its lone touchdown with just 2:49 left to prevent the shutout. It tied the 1982 game (49-0 Henry) as the largest winning margin between the two rival schools since the annual clash was first started in the 1960s.

The Wildcats’ attack was led by sophomore quarterback Luke Magness with 15-of-21 passing for 289 yards, seven carries for 18 yards, three touchdown passes and three more from the ground. Henry finished with 479 offensive yards.

Meanwhile, Eminence finished with 179 yards against a Henry defense that had allowed just 18 points in its first five games, including four shutouts. The only spark the Warriors got came from junior TJ Cooper, who rushed for 120 yards off 20 carries against a tough Henry line.

“I don’t know if I will ever be satisfied, but I was definitely pleased with how we played,” Henry coach Chris Engstrand said. “The bottom line is we did everything we were supposed to do. Obviously, it was a collected team effort on our part. We did a great job as 11 players playing as one.”

Eminence coach Steve Frommeyer was on the other side of the spectrum with ill feelings towards his team’s play in what he dubbed the “worst game we’ve played all season.”

“We picked a bad week to lay an egg,” he said. “Henry County was clearly better than us, without a doubt, but I thought they played very well and it didn’t help that we did things to hurt ourselves. I think that’s why our players were disappointed — not that we lost but that we didn’t put our best foot forward.”

After the four quarters came to an end — with the clock continuously running down during the second half due to the state’s mercy rule of 40-plus points — the Wildcats had controlled just about every statistic: first downs (22-10), rushing yards (190-131), passing yards (289-48), pass completions (15-5), passing touchdowns (3-0), rushing touchdowns (5-1) and, of course, the scoreboard. Eminence did manage to get off three more plays (48-45) and held time of possession longer (29:05-18:55), but that was mainly due to huge plays from Henry’s offense that kept its defense — which played equally impressive — on the field.

To go along with Magness’s solid performance in his first start against the Warriors, Cody Miracle balanced out the attack with 12 carries for 127 yards and Lance Timberlake added 33 yards off two carries. At the receiving end, Matt Long had five catches for 71 yards, Miracle had three catches for 53 yards, Jimmy Sampson had three catches for 32 yards and Hayden Yancey had two catches for 40 yards. Also, Miracle, Justin Hartlage and Taylor Callis recovered one fumble each, while Steven Tillett picked off one pass.

Eminence’s stats were not as impressive, but the Warriors still had some solid performances, including Cooper’s sixth straight game with 100 or more yards. Sophomore quarterback Dre Banta was 5-of-10 passing for 48 yards with Ed Berry catching four of those passes for 40 yards. Also, Brock Roberts had one interception.

Frommeyer was disappointed in his team’s performance, but was clear in the fact that he was up against the best Henry football team he has ever faced since he took over the Eminence program in 1984. The Warriors had a hard time slowing down Henry’s no-huddle offense and pushing through its defense with multiple players stepping up for the Wildcats.

“The Henry teams from the 1980s were great, but they didn’t have the balance this team has,” said Frommeyer, who can accurately compare the past 25 HCHS squads since he has played one each year. “That balance really made Henry tough to defend this year. They’re very impressive.”

From the opening kickoff, the Wildcats looked to take control of the contest, which Eminence won (8-7) in 2006 and Henry won (29-20) in 2007. The Cats quickly pushed the ball up field, and Magness kept it on a 2-yard touchdown carry just 58 seconds into the opening quarter. Patrick Mahoney was good on the extra point to put the Cats ahead 7-0.

The Warriors then bobbled the ensuing kickoff but recovered, was backed up 5 yards for a penalty before taking their first snap, and punted back to the Wildcats on a fourth-and-20 at their own 17.

Eminence’s first big play came on the next drive when Roberts intercepted a pass, and a face mask and personal foul called against Henry placed the ball at midfield. But Tillett picked off an Eminence pass a few minutes later, and the Cats marched up field again, accumulating with a 4-yard touchdown run from Magness and another Mahoney kick to stretch the early advantage to 14-0.

On its next possession, Eminence started to move the chains before bad luck struck the Warriors when they were primed to get on the scoreboard. They moved the ball down to the Henry 16-yard line when time expired to end the first quarter, and Cooper ran 13 yards on a pair of plays to move the ball to the 1-yard line to start the second. Then, Henry came up with a big stop when Hartlage stripped the ball just before Banta crossed the goal line on a quarterback keeper and ran 9 yards away to give the ball back to the Wildcats.

Eminence’s bad luck continued.

“I tried to get our players to relax, but they were way too nervous,” Frommeyer explained of his team’s early debacle. “When you’re nervous, you either fight or flight, and we chose to flight. You would think that at 5-0 we would come out and play with confidence, but we didn’t. We just froze.”

Before the first half came to an end, Henry had scored four more times to open up a huge gap that Eminence could not overcome. Magness connected with Long on a 4-yard touchdown play with 9:01 remaining in the second quarter; Magness connected with Yancey on a 20-yard touchdown play with 8:16 remaining; Magness connected with Timberlake on a big 90-yard touchdown play — Timberlake took a short pass, broke a few tackles along the sideline and raced all the way to the end zone — with 5:02 remaining; and Jaccori Baldwin rushed for a 3-yard touchdown with 2:32 remaining. Mahoney kicked one extra point while Zach Rahm scored one two-point conversion to put the Cats comfortably ahead, 41-0, at the half.

While the clock continued to run down when the teams came back onto the field, play was much slower during the second half as both teams took less snaps and ran fewer plays.

With 7:54 left in the third quarter, Miracle rushed 4 yards across the goal line for another Henry touchdown, and Mahoney kicked the extra point. Later in the game, with 10:26 left in the fourth quarter, Magness kept the ball on a 6-yard carry and Mahoney was once again good on the kick to put the Wildcats in front 55-0.

Eminence scored its only touchdown on its final drive of the game. Banta connected with Berry, who came down with the ball in triple coverage, on a long pickup to the 10-yard line before the Warriors went to Cooper a few times to inch the ball closer to the elusive goal line. Eventually, Cooper took the handoff around the left side for the 1-yard touchdown carry to light up the scoreboard on Eminence’s side for the first time. The 2-point conversion failed, which left Henry ahead 55-6.

Coming into the game, the Wildcats had defeated Ludlow (40-0), Trimble County (56-0), Owen County (52-0) and Pendleton County (58-0) before losing to North Oldham (18-14) in their first district matchup of the season. The Cats — who have been ranked No. 1 in the Litkenhous Rankings, No. 1 in scoring and No. 1 in scoring defense in Class 3-A this season, and are currently ranked No. 2 in the updated Litkenhous released earlier this week — will close out the regular season with games against Western Hills, Carroll County, Spencer County and Scott before the post-season gets rolling next month. Following the North Oldham defeat, the Eminence contest was just what they needed.

“We spent a lot of time after the North Oldham loss watching game film to correct some mistakes, which I thought our kids did against Eminence,” Engstrand said. “I thought our kids responded well. It would have been easy for us to come out soft, but we didn’t.

“Outside of that North Oldham game, I think we’ve played considerably better than we did a year ago. Unfortunately, that was our first district game. We’re still in good shape in our district, though, we’re just on a different path right now. We have to take care of business. We can’t have another North Oldham game — that’s for sure.”

Despite what the scoreboard indicated following the landslide victory, Engstrand was a little worried heading into the Eminence showdown. From watching game film, he said, he thought the Warriors would be a tough opponent.

“I feel like Eminence has a better ball club than a year ago,” Engstrand said. “They have better athletes and are much more matured. I will have to say I was a little concerned going into the game.”

As for the Warriors, who are ranked No. 14 in the Litkenhous in Class A, they are already planning on moving away from this loss in the right direction. So far this season, they have defeated Beth Haven (44-16), Kentucky Country Day (34-13), Trimble (26-24), Bracken County (46-0) and Gallatin County (28-21) before the Henry contest.

They will close out the regular season with games against Evangel Christian, Bishop Brossart, Frankfort and North Hardin before their post-season gets started.

“We talked about learning from this. Now, we need to turn lemon into lemonade,” an upbeat Frommeyer said. “The big thing we can take from this game is when we get behind, or something bad happens, we have to strike back. I was disappointed that we didn’t do that against Henry. Some of it was a very good Henry team, some of it was our own mistakes.

“Our kids understand that we didn’t play well, and they’re determined to learn from it. One thing about playing a team like Henry County is they really reveal a team’s weaknesses, and we made some changes to correct those. I think we will benefit from this game in the long run.”

E-mail us about this story at sports@hclocal.com.