After starting out of sync in their opening snaps, the Henry County Wildcats found their rhythm during the second half to erase an early deficit and come away with a 20-6 win over Pike County Central in the first week of the high school football season.
The Wildcats gave up one touchdown during the first quarter, then scored twice in the third and once in the fourth for the 14-point victory. Quarterback Luke Magness was named the Player of the Game and he joined his teammates to hoist the Henry County Dairy Queen Bowl trophy in the air. It was the start to what looks to be a promising year.
“We played like it was our first game,” HCHS coach Chris Engstrand said of his team’s early-game woes that they eventually turned around. “Actually, we looked better against Oldham County in our scrimmage game one week earlier than we did against Pike Country Central. I have to give them credit, though, because they had a good game plan and came ready to play.”
Henry opened last season with a 40-0 blowout over Ludlow, then followed with a perfect 4-0 start when the Wildcats outscored their opponents 206-0. At the time, they were ranked No. 1 in Class 3-A, but ended the regular season with a 6-4 record and lost to Central, 48-0, in the opening round of the playoffs. This year, Engstrand wanted tougher competition early in the season in preparation for district games and the postseason. It started with Pike Central last Friday.
“Something positive we can take away from this game is we were able to play through adversity and come away with a win,” Engstrand said. “I didn’t really think we were tested last year this early. We were able to tough it out and gutted through an ugly win.”
In his second year lining up behind center full time, Magness was 14-of-26 passing for 81 yards and one touchdown pass. The 6-foot-1 junior kept the ball 14 times for 34 yards on the ground and had two touchdown carries. He played a vital role in all three Henry TDs, resulting in the Player of the Game award.
As a team, the Wildcats finished with 181 offensive yards, 100 coming on the ground. Pete Baldwin had 10 carries for a team-high 53 yards. At the receiving end, Erick Butler had four catches for 41 yards and one touchdown, and Trevor Raisor had three catches for 17 yards. Defensively, Justin Hartlage and Chris Amburgey had an interception each.
Meanwhile, the Pike Central Hawks finished with 211 offensive yards, 151 on the ground and 60 in the air. Quarterback Aaron McGuire was 7-of-22 passing. McGuire also kept the ball 15 times for a game-high 81 yards rushing.
“We were able to execute,” Engstrand said. “I have to give kudos to our new defensive coordinator Dennis Ledford and our coaching staff. After we made some adjustments in the first half, we smothered them.”
Ledford, who was the head coach at Franklin County last fall, took over the defensive coordinator position from Mount Hadden this summer. Against Pike Central, he was all over the sideline, calling plays and screaming encouragement. His antics even caused a yellow flag to be thrown after Amburgey intercepted a Pike pass and Ledford stepped onto the field in excitement — he got a warning. But it was just the boost the Cats needed.
Based on the Oldham scrimmage one week earlier, one area Engstrand was worried about was in the secondary. But Pike Central was limited in throws and had to go almost exclusively to a running game during the second half. Amburgey, Hartlage, Ryan Mitchell, Spud Baldwin and Robbie McClesky “contributed to an efficient effort in our secondary that forced them to run the ball.”
“I was worried how they would do against Pike Central because they play active and move in the pocket really well,” Engstrand said. “In a week’s time (between Oldham scrimmage and opener), I thought they made leaps and bounds. These guys did a great job. Once we forced them to run the ball, with a guy like Butler at linebacker and our defensive line, it made it very tough for them.”
Pike Central scored the game’s first touchdown with 2:44 remaining in the first quarter. The Hawks reached the end zone on a 4-yard run by Cody Meade, then the kick was blocked by Raisor to leave Pike ahead 6-0. Neither team scored for the rest of the first half.
Magness scored Henry’s first touchdown of the season on a 3-yard run in the third quarter. The two-point conversion failed. Later in the quarter, Magness hooked up with tight end Butler on a 13-yard pass play to move the Wildcats in front. Dylan Doll kicked the extra point.
The game’s final touchdown came with 3:03 left in the contest when Magness ran up the middle on a 1-yard carry. Doll kicked the extra point to give the Wildcats the 20-6 victory.
Since Henry started the Dairy Queen Bowl in 2005, the Wildcats are 3-2 in the annul game held the opening week each August. The Cats lost to Western Hills in 2005, lost to Woodford County in 2006, and defeated Casey County in 2007, Ludlow in 2008 and now Pike Central.
Up next for the Wildcats is South Oldham at home this Friday night starting at 7:30 p.m. South lost to Woodford, 27-12, last Friday in its opener.
“Every spot needs work, all across the board,” Engstrand said. “I think we’ll get it straightened out this week.”
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