Senior Michael Cook snares Mike Schmidt’s bomb, in their HHS finale Friday. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
By Pete Zamplas- Hendersonville players and home fans went wild as Terrold Gary zoomed down the left sideline, returning an enemy fumble 75 yards for the lead late in a high-scoring playoff game with classic “Cardiac Cats” drama.
The euphoria midway into the fourth quarter waved in the final minute of this second-round 2-A football playoff game. Visiting Mount Pleasant Tigers made the outcome very unpleasant for the Bearcats, by scoring the go-ahead touchdown and holding on for a 52-46 victory.
West regional third seed West Henderson Falcons (9-4) fell 41-19 at home to another West Falcons team, West Rowan (10-3) in 3-A play. The sixth-seeded visitors jumped to a 20-0 first-quarter lead, starting with Jovon Quarle’s 94-yard score on the opening kick.
Terrell Gary speeds 75 yards on a fumble recovery, for the most exciting score of HHS’ dramatic playoff Friday. Opposing QB Jacob Irby (11) watches in horror. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Fourth seed HHS (7-6) also got off to a rousing start on the first kickoff, as super soph Tykel Landrum raced 93 yards to the end zone. Soonafter, superstar senior quarterback Mike Schmidt scampered 53 yards. He passed 10 yards to Landrum for the first of his four passing scores, to put HHS up by 14-7.
The Cardiac Cats tied it at 21 on Schmidt’s 52-yard bomb to sophomore receiver and QB heir apparent Alex Williford, then junior Drew Eudy’s extra point. Eudy’s 37-yard field goal ended a wild, see-saw second quarter scoring barrage with Mt. Pleasant up 28-24.
The Tigers scored on a “pick six” in the first half. They struck gold to start the second half, as fullback Clayton Horn found seams to return a HHS squib kick the distance.
Their superstar, back Cody Reece, ran for four TDs. He entered the game with over 2500 rushing yards. He and top Cat back Gary are both no. 20.
Dalton Cole sacks QB Kacey Otto (15). Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Trailing 40-24 in the third quarter, HHS scored three TDs in a row to take the lead and spark a dramatic finish. First, Schmidt zipped a five-yard TD pass to Gary then ran for a two-point conversion. Schmidt’s eight-yard strike to junior Leon Cooks pulled HHS within two at 40-38. The two-point try was not good.
But Gary’s big play gave HHS a 46-40 lead, padded by Schmidt running for a two-pointer, with 6:09 to go. Gary wrapped up Reece. Cooks smashed the ball out. Gary snatched it. He raced upfield untouched.
The Tigers scored twice, on runs by gutty Reese and big Horn on a 13-yarder. Reece’s six-yard score tied it at 46. Thus, an extra point would give the Tigers the lead. Instead, they went for two because their long snapper was hurt and they feared they’d miss the extra point, their coaches later revealed. That try failed, leaving the teams tied. But the visitors forced a punt, scored with 24 seconds left, then contained HHS’ quick, final drive.
“We had our chances,” Coach Gash told his players after the game. “We never game up. We fought to the very end … You are men of integrity. You gave it your all. You can keep your heads held up high in football and in life. We (coaches) are very proud of you.”
Schmidt threw for four TDs in each of two playoff games. He totaled 31 scores and some 3,400 yards in the air, pacing WNC passers with an all-state caliber season. He also joined Gary (over 1,200 yards) as a 1,000-yard rusher.
Schmidt is proud of his teammates’ effort and camaraderie. Gary said after the game he feels “blessed” to share his senior season with teammates, especially in coming back from an early injury. Coaches and teammates credit Gary as an inspiring, faith-based team leader.
Mt. Pleasant’s reward is facing explosive top West 2-A seed Shelby this Friday. Last year, Mt. Pleasant annihilated Owen and star back Jager Gardner in Black Mountain, in veteran Warhorse Coach Kenny Ford’s final game. The road win over a Western Highlands Conference power was much tougher this time.
Meanwhile at West Henderson (WHHS), West Rowan back Quarles and QB Kacey Otto each scored on runs behind a huge line, and off a fumble recovery short-circuiting a WHHS drive.West Henderson junior QB Brandon Whitaker hit senior Tristan Thomas on a 24-yard pass on fourth down, to set up senior Tanner Bullock’s third and final score of the night for the third-seeded home Falcons. Bullish Bullock ran 22 times for 204 yards. He totaled a Henderson County-best 1,332 rushing yards in 2015.
Top West runner Tanner Bullock is about to smash away West Rowan’s J.T. Sanders (21). Photo by Pete Zamplas.
West head coach Paul Whitaker praised his team’s perseverance. He eyes a third consecutive outstanding season in 2016.
For the (N.C. vs. N.C. prep) Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas, the N.C. roster’s lone WNC star is OL Peter Leota of Asheville. But others could be added due to injury. The game is Dec. 19, 1 p.m. at Wofford’s Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg, S.C.