By Tommie Kendall
In Henry County's first ever home field playoff game Friday night, the Wildcats surged out to a 20-0 lead during the first 13 minutes of play and fought off Western Hills for the 20-7 win.
Henry's opening spark eventually fizzled out, but it was enough for the Wildcats to earn their first playoff win in school history, continue a six-game home winning streak and advance to second-round action.
"We played a tremendous first quarter," said Henry coach Chris Engstrand, who was the head coach at Western Hills before making the switch to Henry. "After that, we kind of broke our momentum. I take blame for that. I had a plan to play some of our younger players to give them some experience in case we needed them the following week, and when I did that during the second quarter, we lost all the momentum we had in the first."
Henry came out firing on all cylinders, and the Wolverines had no answer.
Cody Miracle broke out of the pack on a 50-yard run for Henry's first touchdown and Matt Doane kicked the extra point to put the Cats ahead 7-0 four minutes into the game. Later in the opening quarter, quarterback Hayden Yancey drove the ball down the field and ran into the end zone from one yard out, and Doane was once again good on the extra point, which stretched the advantage to 14-0.
Meanwhile, Henry middle linebacker Erick Butler was holding the Wolverines in check.
Just 33 seconds into the second half, after Western Hill was unsuccessful in its opening drives, Yancey connected with Patrick Mahoney on a 12-yard touchdown pass. It was the last time Henry would score in the game, but it proved to be enough for the win.
Western Hills scored its lone touchdown early in the third quarter on a 2-yard carry.
"We never really found any rhythm in the second half, and our offense thrives on finding rhythm and continuity," Engstrand said. "We just weren't able to run the ball or get things going. Just like the game against Scott the week before (when Henry lost 42-24), we weren't hitting on all cylinders."
Engstrand knows that is something that needs to change by this Friday night, when the Wildcats host North Oldham in the second round of the playoffs.
"We need to play all four quarters, and we can't rely on getting a lead and letting up," Engstrand explained. "It's the opposite of earlier this season when we used to start out a little sluggish and then get in the groove. Now, we need to learn how to push harder when we're ahead."
Against Western Hills, Miracle finished with 127 yards on 16 carries, with a majority of his running attack from the opening quarter when Henry was in a groove. Henry moved the ball for 277 yards - 168 on the ground and 109 in the air.
Western Hills finished with 113 yards rushing and 53 passing, and threw two interceptions - picked off by junior Jimmy Sampson and freshman Justin Hartlage.
Yancey finished 9-of-22 passing for 76 yards, with three of his passes going to Cari Dunaway for 38 yards. Yancey came into the game ranked fourth in Class 3A with 213.8 yards per game, including 152-277 passing and 26 touchdowns. Dunaway was ranked fifth in Class 3A among receivers with 68.3 yards per game, while teammate Travis McClanahan was ranked sixth with 66.2 per game. As a team, Henry was ranked third in passing among with 243.7 yards per game, behind Elizabethtown (318.5) and Somerset (259.4).
The Wildcats will continue to make history this Friday when they host North Oldham in the second round of the state playoffs. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m. at Henry.
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