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Cats growling for region finals

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History-making Henry County football team beats Elizabethtown 14-0, plays at Central in Region Two finals this Friday at 7:30 p.m.

By Tommie Kendall

After Friday night’s exciting 14-0 win over Elizabethtown in the second round of the Class 3-A State Playoffs, no football team at Henry County High School has won more games than this 2009 squad. And if these Wildcats can have it their way, they will tack on a few more victories before the season is over.

The Wildcats scored once in the first quarter and once in the fourth while holding Elizabethtown scoreless for the first time since September 2006, spanning 43 games and more than three years. It gave the Cats their 10th win of the season, leaving them at 10-2 overall, and secured them a place in the regional finals for just the second time in school history. With only eight teams remaining in each of the six classes, Henry plays Central this Friday night for the chance to move on to the state semifinals.

“I’m tickled to death at the situation we’re in,” said HCHS coach Chris Engstrand, who also led Henry to the regional finals in 2007. “To be a part of this is great for our kids and I love it. I will say it’s a lot of fun.”

Henry’s defensive unit, particularly the linemen, are proving to be a force in the postseason run. Elizabethtown finished with negative 34 yards rushing and only one of its five rushers managed to record positive yardage. Elizabethtown had to go to an almost one-dimensional strategy with nothing working on the ground — quarterback  Kyle Todd was 22-of-36 passing for 229 yards with Justin Hartlage and Trevor Raisor picking off one pass each. Engstrand said Raisor played an outstanding game at linebacker, Tommy Farris and Chris Amburgey were great in the secondary and Eric Butler, as usual, had another solid game. But the offensive linemen were the rock that held everyone in place.

“I really felt like our defense played exceptionally well,” Engstrand said. “For us to put them in a hole like we did (negative rushing yards) and step up in key situations was outstanding. It was very encouraging to see that kind of effort.”

Offensively, the Wildcats overcame what could have been costly penalties to step up when they needed to. Quarterback Luke Magness was 12-of-17 passing for 70 yards and threw no interceptions, while Lance Timberlake caught one pass for a team-high 35 yards, Raisor caught four passes for 19 yards and Ryan Mitchell caught three passes for 19 yards. Magness also kept the ball 11 times for 48 yards on the ground, with Pete Baldwin taking 16 handoffs for a game-high 159 yards. Henry had 307 total yards — 237 rushing and 70 passing.

Henry scored its first seven points at the 5:27 mark in the opening quarter when Magness found the end zone on a 9-yard run and Dylan Doll kicked the extra point. It was at the tail end of an 11-play, 78-yard drive. Henry did not score again until the final quarter.

Midway through the fourth quarter, on a third-and-27 from the Henry 11, Magness found Timberlake on a 35-yard reception that shifted the momentum in Henry’s favor. Baldwin then took the handoff, broke loose and raced 42 yards down the right sideline for the score. Doll kicked the extra point and the Wildcats held on down the stretch for the shutout victory.

Raisor and Robbie McClesky brought down Elizabethtown’s quarterback in the backfield on the 14-yard line with Elizabethtown threatening to score and just 2:18 left on the clock. But Henry was signaled for a pass interference on the next play, which moved the football to the 7-yard line and an automatic first down. Raisor then intercepted the ball on the next play and slid to the ground. It sealed the victory for the Wildcats, and continued them on their history-making ride.

The Henry players came out of the locker room fired up, held their emotions in check for the most part, and pulled out the victory to secure a place in the Region Two championship game.

“I think anytime you get to this point in the season then the kids are going to come out more fired up,” Engstrand said of his team’s out-of-locker-room determination. “They came out much more focused than the last couple of weeks, and that’s what we’ll need to continue to do.”

While Henry was taking care of Elizabethtown, Western Hills was playing at Central in a tight contest to determine which squad would meet Henry the following weekend. Central took the lead for good with just 30 seconds left in the game to come away with a 34-27 win. Henry beat Western Hills 14-7 last month.

Central is 7-5 overall, is the top seed out of District Three and defeated Henry County 48-0 in the playoffs last November on its way to the state championship. Henry, at 10-2, is the top seed in District Four. Since both teams are the top seed and it is an odd year, then the odd district hosts the contest.

Regardless, it is an anticipated matchup with the winner playing either Paducah Tilghman (6-6) or Russellville (8-4). The other four remaining teams are Somerst (12-0), Breathitt County (7-5), Pike County Central (7-5) and Sheldon Clark (8-4).

“Central has some very athletic kids. They have a good core group that has won a state title so it’s one of those things where they’ve been there, done that,” Engstrand said. “The biggest difference for us from last year to this year is we’ve been there and we know what it’s like. We have to play extremely well just to keep ourselves in the game and be in a situation where we can come out on top. We have to be ready to play.”

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