Cats take second district loss but goals remain intact

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By The Staff

Sports editor

In what turned into a bizarre football game between Henry County and Western Hills during Friday night’s district matchup, the Western Hills Wolverines came away with a slim 38-34 win over the visiting Wildcats.

The contest, which wasn’t decided until the final horn sounded, was full of momentum shifts as the two teams went back and forth in a see-saw showdown. Western Hills was in front 24-7 before the Wildcats rallied to take command, 34-24, with just 3:50 remaining. The 27-0 run looked to be just enough for the Cats but, in a change of events, Western Hills made one final run to take the lead for good — thanks to two late touchdowns and an onside kick.

During the Wildcats’ surge that closed the gap and eventually pushed them ahead, it was the best the Cats had played all season, coach Chris Engstrand said.

“It was as exciting of a football game as I’ve ever been a part of,” said Engstrand, who coached at Western Hills before taking over the Henry program in 2006. “It was a wild and crazy game. One thing I will say is our kids never gave up. It would have been easy for us to lay down after we were behind, but we didn’t do that. And it didn’t come in a bunch of big plays, our players were patient and we drove the football. We fought hard to get back in it. I thought that second half was the best we’ve played all year. It could have very easily gotten ugly, but we refused to let that happen.”

The Wildcats went into halftime trailing 17-7, then dug a deeper hole when they turned the ball over on the first play of the third quarter and allowed Western Hills to score just one minute later on a 13-yard run to stretch the deficit to 24-7.

From that point forward, though, the Wildcats continued to pick up steam in a turn of events that saw the Cats squeeze back into the game.

Luke Magness hooked up with Hayden Yancey on a 9-yard pass play for a touchdown and Patrick Mahoney kicked the extra point with 4:59 left in the third quarter to close the gap. Then, with 9:38 left in the fourth quarter, Magness connected with tight end Cody Hinkel on a 10-yard touchdown play to narrow the margin to just four points, 24-20.

Henry went in front with 3:58 left on a Magness 15-yard pass play to Cody Miracle, and Mahoney kicked the extra point to put the Wildcats ahead 27-24. In what looked to be a game-changing play, Matt Long picked off a Western Hills pass in the next drive and returned it 32 yards into the end zone to stretch the Cats’ advantage to 10 points with just 3:50 left.

“At that point, I thought all we had to do was get the ball back and run out the clock,” Engstrand explained.

But it didn’t play out that way as Western Hills pushed the ball up field and scored on a 5-yard run with 1:19 left, then was successful on the on-side kick to give them another chance at the end zone. With just 18 seconds left, the Wolverines scored on a 10-yard pass to put them ahead for good, 38-34.

Henry took two legit shots at the end zone — the first off a double pass and the second off a reverse pass — but neither were successful as the Wildcats dropped both balls and their second game of the season. Both Henry and Western Hills fought until the final whistle.

“We’re still doing a lot of things right,” Engstrand said, despite the loss. “We have to come out with the same passion that we did in that second half. We have to apply that to every game, every quarter, and if we can do that then I don’t think there’s any team that can stay with us.”

Coming off a blowout win over Eminence the weekend before, Henry started the Western Hills contest a little sluggish before picking up steam. Neither team scored during the first quarter, while Western Hills connected on a 26-yard field goal early in the second to get things rolling. Henry responded with a 24-yard touchdown run by Miracle and a Mahoney kick, which put the Wildcats ahead 7-3. But Western Hills scored just a little over a minute later and went on to stretch its lead before the Henry rally.

“I don’t know if we were tight or what, but we didn’t play well in that first half,” Engstrand said. “We were dropping balls offensively and we weren’t playing well defensively either. It started to add up for us. It was amazing that we even put ourselves in position to win that game.”

The Wildcats are suffering from a few injuries to some key players. Matt Butts has not played since the Trimble County game due to knee problems, Kevin Quire is out with a broken hand, Steven May is nursing some stingers to his shoulder and had to sit during the final six minutes against Western Hills, and Eric Butler has had lower-back problems but still managed to play a majority of Friday’s game.

Against Western Hills, Henry finished with 298 yards, compared to Western Hills with 389. Luke Magness was 22-of-44 passing for 219 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The Cats’ ground game was led by Miracle with nine carries for 41 yards, while at the receiving end Hinkel had seven catches for 72 yards, Yancey had six catches for 88 yards and Miracle had five catches for 57 yards. Also, Long had one interception and one fumble recovery, while Zach Rahm had had one fumble recovery.

The pass-happy offense from both teams also saw Western Hills complete 25-of-43 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns, which led to the back-and-forth play.

Henry is now 5-2 overall, including 0-2 in District Four play with an earlier loss to North Oldham, while Western Hills is 5-1, 1-1. If North Oldham defeats Western Hills Oct. 24, and Henry defeats Spencer County the same day, then Henry, Western Hills and Spencer will be in a three-way tie for the all-important No. 2 seed in the district, which means home field advantage in the opening round of the Class 3-A State Playoffs next month. Based on the tie-breaker, which comes down to the non-district opponents’ wins, the Wildcats would most likely come out on top in that scenario. The bottom line, Engstrand said, is they have to beat Spencer.

“Our season is nowhere near over,” Engstrand said. “We still have the opportunity to reach all of our goals and make a run in the playoffs. Once you get to the playoffs, no matter where you play, anything can happen. I’ll tell you this, I wouldn’t want to be the team who plays us in the opening round. As long as we do things right, we will finish our season as well as I think we can.”

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