When the Henry County Wildcats took the field Friday night against Waggener, the field was still wet from earlier rains and the sky threatened still more.
During the first half, the Cats dominated possession and field position while the rains held off. The Cats squandered two opportunities to break the game open. Their only score came on a Mason Fish 16-yard run with 7:12 left in the first quarter. Jacob Buckley’s extra point kick was good to make it 7-0.
The touchdown was set up by solid defense and special teams play. The Cats stopped Waggener on their first possession and forced them to punt from fairly deep in their own half of the field. The punt was partially blocked and Cameron Johnson fielded the short kick, returning it to the Waggener 34-yard line.
On the next play, Fish reeled off a tough 18-yard run to set up his second carry for the score.
The Cats held Waggener to three downs on their second series and then marched down field again. Fish ripped off 29- and 11-yard runs to get the Cats in scoring position again, but an Austin Hartsell pass was picked off on second-and-5 from the 10-yard line.
The Cats held Waggener to three downs for the third consecutive series and took over on their own 30-yard line to start another long drive. The Cats drove down field again and Hartsell converted on a crucial fourth-and-2 on a quarterback sneak.
But the Cats were pushed back on their next three plays and had to punt. Henry County recovered a fumble on the punt return and took over on Waggener’s 18-yard line.
But Waggener foiled the Cats’ hopes of a second touchdown, sacking Hartsell for a 10-yard loss. The Cats eventually settled for a 25-yard field goal attempt but the snap was fumbled and the Cats chance to score failed.
When the horn sounded to end the first half the Cats had racked up big yardage but led only 7-0.
As the teams left the field for halftime, a gentle rain began to fall. When the Cats kicked off to begin the second half a deluge of rain and points began.
The Henry County Wildcats found the rain to their liking in the second half, putting 34 points on the board. Fish and Hartsell ran wild on a Waggener team that seemed to lose their spirit as the rains grew stronger.
Hartsell scored the second touchdown of the game on a seven-yard run with 3:12 left in the third quarter. Hartsell, a former running back plowed over a Waggener defender at the goal line to get the score and it seemed to take the life out of the Louisville visitors.
After a Waggener turnover, the Cats got an eight-yard touchdown run from Fish to make it 21-0 with 37 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Cats kept the pressure on to begin the final period when Fish scored his third touchdown with 11:44 to go.
After the kickoff, Waggener fumbled the ball on the first play of their next drive and Hartsell picked up the loose ball and rambled 20-yards for his second touchdown. The extra-point attempt failed but the Cats had scored 27 points in less than four minutes spanning the third and fourth periods. The Cats added another touchdown when Fish scored from 34 yards out, making it 41-0, and starting the running clock. In the last nine minutes, the Cats substituted liberally as the team reveled in the rain.
Sophomore back Jacob Watson punctuated the win with a running, head-first slide into the sideline when he was replaced late in the game.
The Cats took advantage of five Waggener fumbles in the game and got strong running from Fish who had 168 yards on 17 carries and Hartsell who racked up 44 yards on 16 carries, a total that is misleading because sacks are figured into his run total. The Cats had two fumbles in the sloppy conditions, but the team’s stout defense negated both.
Coach Jason Spencer was pleased with team’s performance. “The first half we moved the ball at will but when we got in the red zone we had some mental mistakes that kept us out of the end zone,” Spencer said. “We made some O-line adjustments at the half and switched some personnel around and we started hitting our blocking assignments. We caused some turnovers and those two things were the difference in the second half.”
He was especially pleased with the team’s defensive performance.
“The defense had one of the best performances I have ever seen on a high school football field. We allowed them 26 yards of total offense for the game. Our team is in a good place right now.”