Jay Ashley scrambles for a big pickup.
(Staff Photo by Christopher Dunn)
On a frigid night the Whitewater Wildcats had ice water in their veins. The Wildcats stared down a long field, rallying to win late 34-27 and advance in the state playoffs.
Whitewater was not about to let their dream season slip away over a little thing like trailing late in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. Instead they steeled their nerves and drove the length of the field for the winning score.
"It was a wild one," said Whitewater head coach Amos McCreary. "It you're going to go a long ways in the playoffs you're going to have to win that kind of game."
The fourth quarter appeared to belong to the Glynn Academy Terrors. Just nine seconds into the frame, they scored on a 17 yard run by running back Jonathan Alford. On their next drive they would milk the clock on their way to the end zone.
Alford bruised the Cats all night with his legs. It was his arm that nearly did them in. After pounding the rock the length of the field, the Terrors would get a little tricky to get into the end zone. Alford appeared to be sweeping around the right side when he pulled off and found a receiver wide open in the end zone for a 17 yard touchdown pass.
The touchdown and failed two point conversion gave Glynn Academy a 27-26 lead with just 3:41 left on the clock. It was just a bit too much time to leave the Wildcats.
Whitewater took over on their own 14 yard line with either the end zone or elimination ahead. They were not going to be denied. Kendall Conley took the first swing, moving the chains with a 13 yard run. They would move past midfield on a superb play by Jake Carlson who grabbed a pass at his shoelaces and raced for a 31 yard gain. A huge pass interference call would extend the drive on third and 15. On the next third down, the Cats would take care of things themselves.
On third and two from the 12 yard line, Conley took the ball right into the belly of the defense and scraped through to paydirt as the crowd and sideline exploded.
The team then maintained their composure to nail the two point as Jay Ashley executed a beautiful playfake and hit a wide open Drew Davis.
Together with a big 35 yard catch by fullback Kyle Brown in the first half, the Cats got contributions across the board. "Kyle and Drew came up big," said McCreary. "You like to see those kids get some success. They work hard every play so it's nice to get them the ball."
Glynn Academy had one last gasp to get the game back. Taking over at their own 31 with just 22 seconds left and trailing by seven points, they knew they needed a miracle. Whitewater quickly stamped out their hopes. On the first play, a swarm of Cats swamped the quarterback, knocking the ball loose where Matt Oggle recovered on the three yard line.
A quick play in victory formation iced the 34-27 win for Whitewater.
For a Whitewater team that has blown out almost every opponent this season, they could have folded under the pressure. Instead, they were ready for a challenge.
"Games had come kind of easy lately. I thought we were going to be in a pretty close game," McCreary said. "The kids believed that they can win. Once you get to winning some games, that's what starts to happen."
The victory was a hard fought one from the outset. The Cats knew they had their work cut out for them when, on just the second play of the game, Jonathan Alford raced for a 75 yard touchdown.
Thankfully for Whitewater, they don't make running backs much better than their Kendall Conley. After the teams exchanged turnovers, Conley took a draw up the middle for a 31 yard touchdown. On their next possession, Conley swept around the left side and snuck inside the pylon for a four yard touchdown.
Alford picked up another big touchdown from 70 yards to put the Terrors ahead 14-13. Conley was right back on the ball, answering with a 55 yard touchdown and a 19-14 lead that would last into the second half.
The Wildcat special teams set up the first score of the second half. For the second straight game Colton Clemons blocked a punt to wreck the other team. Starting on the Terrors' 25 yard line, the Cats quickly took advantage. Quarterback Jay Ashley scrambled for 23 yards and Conley did the rest, punching it in from a yard out. Sam Leathers's extra point made it 26-14, where would stay until Glynn Academy made their move to start the fourth quarter.
The great ones step up on the biggest stage and Kendall Conley brought his finest performance yet. Conley shredded the opposition for 290 yards and five touchdowns on 38 yards. He spearheaded the Wildcat rushing attack that piled up 329 yards on the ground.
The thrilling victory moves Whitewater into the Elite Eight where they will host the Allatoona Buccaneers on Friday night.