Following Henry Countys 40-0 victory over Ludlow High School late Saturday night, the Wildcats collected the Henry County Dairy Queen Bowl trophy and hoisted it into the air at midfield.
If this season opener was any indication of the direction Henrys football program is headed during the next 10-plus weeks, it should be a year full of feel-good moments for the Wildcats, who are coming off one of their best seasons in school history.
Henry scored one touchdown during each of the first, second and third quarters, added three more in a big fourth, held Ludlow from putting any points on the scoreboard and came away with the blowout 40-point win. The Wildcats did not play a perfect game especially early on when it took them a while to get rolling but they did prove why they were preseason ranked among the top 10 in Class 3A as the smallest school in the class. After the offense caught up to the defenses superb play, there was nothing Ludlow could do.
That first game is always tough; I just wasnt sure what to expect, said Chris Engstrand, who is starting his third season after posting 3-7 and 9-4 records. I thought weve looked good in practice, but it took us a while to work out the cobwebs against Ludlow. Once we got up to speed, though, we got on the fast track quick.
The key to Henrys runaway win was on the defensive side of the ball, where the Wildcats allowed Ludlow just 34 yards rushing and 20 yards passing. Trevor Raisor, Steven May, Brett Downey, Zach Rahm, Matt Long and Lance Timberlake all came up with big plays, Engstrand said, along with just about every other player on the defensive side. Henrys front line overpowered Ludlow for much of the contest and its backfield came up with key stops, including interceptions from both Long and first-year player Steven Tillett.
A lot of players stepped up it was a total team effort, Engstrand said. Our defensive line played one heck of a ballgame. They were aggressive and disciplined, things we need to be successful.
What made the performance even more impressive was it was without the presence of Erick Butler, who was named All-State Honorable Mention as a sophomore last fall and injured his knee in a scrimmage two weeks ago. Butler, who played middle linebacker last season, might make his return in this weeks game, but will play outside linebacker with May, who played on the line last year, in the middle.
It was coach (Mount) Haddens call (to move May to middle linebacker and Butler to outside), and Im not going to question my coaches, Engstrand said of his defensive coordinator. May is big and has tremendous side movement. Hes a great threat for us. Well be happy when we get Butler back though. Hes not the only part of this team, but hes a key ingrediant.
Henry also made a switch at the quarterback position with sophomore Luke Magness moving to the starting position and senior Hayden Yancey, who was last years starter and this years co-captain with May, moving to a starting receiver spot. It seemed to be a good fit Saturday night, and might continue to pay off as the season progresses.
The bottom line is Yancey is one of my 11 best offensive players on this team, so I want him out there, explained Engstrand, who pointed out that Yancey will also see time this season behind center. Wide receiver seems like more of a natural position for him. Its a safety net, too. We have arguably the best backup quarterback in the state on the field, and hes very offensive minded so it basically gives us two quarterbacks on the field at the same time. Yancey faced some adversity, took it full stride and is willing to do whats best for this team. I cant say enough good things about him.
As for Magness, he emerged as the starter during spring training and held it until the season opener. In his first official varsity start, he took every snap and finished 14-of-29 passing for 254 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Also, he provided a double threat with 17 carries for 81 yards rushing and one touchdown on the ground.
His running is another dimension that he brings to the table, Engstrand said. He adds that threat to us offensively that will give defenses trouble.
Magness got things going for the Wildcats with 3:25 left in the first quarter when he connected with Jimmy Sampson on a 15-yard play for a touchdown. Patrick Mahoney kicked the extra point to put Henry ahead 7-0. With 5:20 left in the second quarter, Downey, who gave Ludlow fits all night, recovered a fumble on the goal line to score Henrys second and final touchdown before the half.
After the break, Henry continued its dominate defensive play and added one more touchdown when Cody Miracle broke open on a 19-yard carry. Mahoney then kicked the extra point to stretch the lead to 20-0.
During the final quarter, the Wildcats really got rolling with three more touchdowns. Magness connected with Long on two touchdown passes a 7-yard play with 11:00 left and 62-yard play with 6:51 left and Magness kept the ball on a 2-yard carry up the middle with 2:13 left. Mahoney made two of the extra-point kicks to give Henry the 40-0 shutout win.
In the end, Ludlow held possession of the ball for longer (24:55-23:05), but the Wildcats had 10 more first downs (17-7), 89 more rushing yards (123-34) and 234 more passing yards (254-20).
Individually, Miracle carried the ball 10 times for 47 yards, newcomer Cody Hinkle had six catches for 103 yards, Long caught three passes for 82 yards, Yancey caught two passes for 30 yards, Miracle caught two passes for 24 yards and Sampson caught one pass for 15 yards. Long was named Dairy Queen Bowl Player of the Game for his offensive and defensive play.
According to the scoreboard, Henry had an outstanding performance but, of course, it was not perfect with three fumbles and eight penalties. It definitely pointed the squad in the right direction with nine more games during the regular season before the Kentucky State Playoffs roll around.
We can always improve on execution; nobody on our team did everything perfect, Engstrand said. We did make some silly mistakes in this game. But the thing is, how much better can we get now? Its really scary to think about. We have the opportunity to do some special things this year.
The Wildcats will get the chance to continue their season this Friday when they take on Trimble County, who defeated Casey County in a 50-7 thrashing in the first game of the Henry County Dairy Queen Bowl. Trimble finished with 251 yards rushing and 190 yards passing, while picking off three passes and recovering one fumble. Game time between Henry and Trimble this Friday is set for 7:30 p.m. on Henrys field.
Note: The Henry County Touchdown Club invites all Wildcat football fans to a tailgating party this Friday at 6 p.m. at the pavilion prior to the Trimble County game. Please bring a dish to share. All paper products. along with tea and lemonade will be provided.