Jim O’Neil hammers Jay Ashley as he tries to pass.
(Photo by Michael Clifton / www.kombatkamera.com)
By Christopher Dunn
McIntosh and Whitewater were two red hot teams set for a collision. It was the Chief Express that keeps rolling on after a monumental 35-15 victory.
Whitewater came into the game at 5-1, winners of five straight. McIntosh was riding in a flawless 5-0, a first in school history. There may have been doubts about the Chiefs before, but there's no doubting the team is for real now.
"I'm just very proud of this team. These guys have worked out hard. They've executed. They did what they had to do to win this game tonight," said McIntosh coach Lee Belknap. "They're just a great bunch of young men. I'm so proud just be associated with them."
The win over Whitewater is arguably the biggest victory in McIntosh football history. Last year, the Chiefs got over the hump against Starr's Mill. This time was the first win over Whitewater. The Wildcats had been on a roll both in this series and against the state. They had won each previous meeting by at least 27 points. Last year, the Cats made it to the state semifinals. This was the victory the Chiefs needed to establish themselves this season. Wins against Drew and Mundy's Mill are important, but a win over a perennial playoff team would announce their arrival. McIntosh did just that. They went out and played a great game to get a great win against a great team.
The Chiefs are thrilled with the victory, but they're determined to make sure it isn't the last high point of the season. "It's a huge win for our program. We've got to enjoy it this weekend and then get ready to go back to work because we've got a tough slate ahead," said Belknap. "We're taking it a day at a time and they're just getting the job done."
McIntosh's star quarterback echoed his coach's sentiments. "It feels incredible right now. Just looking at the scoreboard it doesn't even feel real right now. We're just trying to keep rolling and keep rolling," said Andrew Johnson. "We get our 24 hour rule. We can enjoy the win for 24 hours and then come Sunday morning we're focusing on our next game."
On the other sideline, the Wildcats were in a bit of shock. They were ready to keep rolling on into the playoffs. Still, they handled the game like they always handle it - win or lose. With class.
"McIntosh came ready to play and they had a whole lot of heart. They came out and outplayed us in every phase of the game. That was nothing but the McIntosh coaching staff and football players winning a big football game," said Whitewater coach Amos McCreary. "You hate to get beat, but I'm happy for Coach Belknap. He's worked tremendously hard over here to make this happen. I wished it hadn't happened to us, but it's not going to be the last football game they win."
The story of the night was perhaps an unexpected one. Usually it's the McIntosh offense that grabs the headlines. This time it was the defense that won the day. The Chief defense limited a Whitewater offense that was averaging 31 points a game in their five wins to just 15 points. They allowed only 253 total yards with 142 of them coming on just two plays. Whitewater's usually dominant running back Christian Wafford was held to just 59 yards.
"Our defense, they just played hard. (Wafford) is a very talented running back. We have a lot of respect for him and that entire Whitewater program," Belknap said. "Our guys just played their hearts out tonight."
"Our defense held it strong," said Johnson. "In the first half they didn't allow any points. It cut the game in half. They played very big tonight. I'm so proud of them."
The Chief defense wasted no time making their big play of the night. Whitewater's Russell Welch made the first defensive play of the game with a key sack to kill McIntosh's first drive. McIntosh's Josh Reynolds one upped him with an interception on Whitewater's second offensive play.
Neither team would get on the board for the duration of the first quarter. McIntosh got close. Andrew Johnson picked up 53 yards on what looked like a short run, but he spun loose of a tackle and raced up field. The drive would stall and a 32 yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter would sail wide.
Whitewater's offense could not get in gear early. If not for a roughing the snapper penalty on the Chiefs, the Wildcats would not have gotten their initial first down until the second half.
The Chiefs lit up the scoreboard for the first time midway through the second quarter. Johnson picked up a key first down on fourth and short in their own territory with a two yard run. The next one came in a big chunk as Johnson hit Trey Walters up the seam for 34 yards. Johnson capped it off with a four yard touchdown pass to Josh Ange. Nick Alvey's extra point staked the Chiefs to a 7-0 lead with 5:34 left in the opening half.
McIntosh tried to tally another score before the half, but it was snuffed out when Whitewater's Amon Crumpton came up with an interception on a deep ball.
Whitewater appeared to gain some momentum on the opening drive of the second half. The first play was a seven yard connection from Jay Ashley to Jonathan Womack. The second was a 13 yard run by Christian Wafford. A flag would negate the first down and the drive would stall.
McIntosh made use of their first drive of the half. Several times the drive looked stalled, but they found a way to keep rolling. Victor Nguyen opened it by slicing through the defense for 18 yards. They would move the chains again on a nine yard pass from Johnson to Duke Kinamon. Another strong Nguyen run, combined with a horse collar penalty, pushed the Chiefs down the field. Kinamon came up big again, converting a third and ten with a short pass that he hauled in, then juked and fought his way past the chains. Another Russell Welch sack backed McIntosh up, eventually setting up a fourth and 10. Again it was Kinamon with a clutch play, this time an 18 yard reception.
The Chiefs capped off the drive in spectacular fashion. Facing third and goal, Johnson rolled out and lofted what looked like a throwaway. Instead, Josh Ange made a tremendous leap for a fingertip touchdown from six yards out. The extra point put McIntosh ahead 14-0 with 1:24 left in the third quarter.
Whitewater finally got their first big offensive play as they tried to answer back. Quarterback Jay Ashley did it with a run that would make Adrian Peterson proud. Ashley took what looked like a short run, but broke through Chief tackler after Chief tackler. After bruising his way through the defense, Ashley was off to the races. Only a great hustle play by cornerback Darius Stokes prevented a touchdown, but not before a pick up of 62 yards. Ryan May added 12 yards before Christian Wafford swept around the end for a four yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter. After a Chief penalty changed the plans, Wafford punched it in on a two point conversion to narrow the deficit to 14-8.
Whitewater's defense got McIntosh off the field quickly, ending the next drive with a near interception by Colton Clemons. Unfortunately for the Cats, the Chiefs defense returned the favor as a Jim O'Neil sack would lead to a three and out.
The Chief pass rush had a huge night, spearheaded by O'Neil. "We call him 'Big' Jim O'Neil, but I'm not going to tell you how much he weighs," joked Belknap. He's what high school football is all about. He played his heart out tonight and came through for the Chiefs."
McIntosh started in great field position and didn't waste it. First, Victor Nguyen converted a third and short with an eight yard burst then followed it up with a 21 yard run on the next play. Andrew Johnson punched it in from four yards out to stretch the lead to 21-8 with 6:08 left in the game.
The game was in control if they could keep the Wildcats in check. They couldn't just yet. On the first play, Jay Ashley found Josh Alexander behind the secondary on a post route and hit him right in stride. The speedy Alexander did the rest and scorched the defense for an 80 yard touchdown to make it 21-15.
McIntosh didn't get down. They got gutsy. Many would have run the ball to keep the clock moving, instead they went to the air. The drive seemed to stall out as they faced a fourth and six from 32 yards out. Rather than go for a field goal or something safe, Johnson dropped back and hit Sean Ingram wide open up the seam for a 32 yard touchdown as the crowd exploded. The big strike likely iced the game at 28-15 with just 2:39 to play.
"We've got a lot of faith in our guys. You know you can't play conservative and beat a team like Whitewater," said Belknap. "We knew we had to take some chances and play aggressive tonight."
The Chief pass rush killed any last ditch hopes for Whitewater. A combined sack by Jim O'Neil and Patrick Trianna greeted them on third down. Another sack forced fourth and long. The pass fell incomplete.
McIntosh took over at the Whitewater ten yard line. While running out the clock, Victor Nguyen scored from three yards out for the final blow in a massive 35-15 victory.
"This team set the goal to be the best team in McIntosh history. We're taking it a day at a time. They're just getting the job done, but there's a lot of ball left to be played," Belknap said. "They're finding ways to win. They're just a bunch of winners. That's all you can say."
It was a balanced effort for the McIntosh offense with 156 yards passing and 162 yards rushing. Andrew Johnson completed 14 of 24 passes for 156 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. He added 83 yards rushing. Victor Nguyen was huge with 97 yards and a score on 11 carries. Duke Kinamon led the receiving corp with seven catches for 57 yards. Josh Ange caught two passes for 10 yards, both touchdowns.
The McIntosh defense held a normally high-powered Wildcat offense to just 224 total yards. Jake Carney led the way with eight tackles. Patrick Trianna picked up six tackles and two half sacks. Jim O'Neil added five tackles and 1.5 sacks. Josh Espinosa also had half a sack.
Whitewater's Jay Ashley finished the night seven of 19 passing with 124 yards and a score along with 57 yards rushing. Russell Welch was a wrecking ball for the defense with nine tackles and four sacks. Colton Clemons racked up 14 tackles while Matt Ogle added 11.
The two teams left the field feeling drastically different emotions. Whitewater, now 5-2, is ready to get back at it and regroup for a playoff push. They will face a tough test at home this week versus Creekside.
"This is gonna be hard on some of those seniors. We've just got to on on and take this as just another game. We just didn't play well. It's just one game in the region," said McCreary. "It's not where we're at tonight. It's where we're going to be three or four weeks from now."
McIntosh, meanwhile, is on a high. They will aim for 7-0 on the road next week against their rivals, the Starr's Mill Panthers. The Chiefs finally got their first win against the Panthers last year in a 30-13 victory. They know the Panthers will be out for revenge.
"That's a very storied program down there (at Starr's Mill). We have the utmost respect for those guys," said Belknap. "Our guys have just got to get ready to play. It's like this every week in this region."