Note: The following article contains a corrected playoff record for both teams after an error by the TSSAA official playoff history was discovered.
By Kris Freeman for The White House Tribune
Two weeks of disappointment need to be a distant memory for the White House Blue Devils entering a 21st consecutive playoff appearance Friday night at home against Chester County.
Reeling from a two-game losing streak to Smith County and Sycamore, the District 9-AA champions return home to face the Eagles from Henderson, with both teams sporting identical 5-5 records. Chester County, however, has been playing for their playoff lives since week eight and won the final two contests of the year to clinch a spot.
White House fumbled three times in the fourth quarter at Sycamore and fell 25-18 in a rain-soaked disappointment. Now, everyone is even and every game matters.
“All we have is four days of practice and 48 minutes to play, that’s it,” said White House head coach Jeff Porter. We have to make every minute count and get from 32 teams to the round of 16. We have a home game in the second round if we win, but wanting to win and continue playing should be enough motivation in itself.
“Being a two-seed is only an advantage if we get the job done.”
Grant Wicker eclipsed the 1,500-yard rushing mark for the season and 3,000-yard milestone for his career with 144 yards Friday night. But the senior accounts for 65 percent of the Blue Devils offense, and White House will face a team moving in a 4-4 and 5-3 defensive scheme, whose four linebackers have over 60 tackles each.
Leading the way is senior fullback/linebacker Matthew Butler for Chester County with 80 stops. Tyler Seagraves is the tailback on offense, but has 65 tackles and four of the team’s 10 picks on defense in the secondary.
“They’re going to do the same thing Sycamore did, I’m sure, and that’s get eight or nine in the box and really pressure the running game,” Porter said. “But we are minus in turnover ratio for the season and three fumbles in the fourth quarter get you beat in any football game.”
The advantage for White House may be most in the kicking game, where senior Chase Dunlap is perfect on extra points and averages over 55 yards per kickoff with 75 percent as touchbacks. The Blue Devils also average 34 yards per punt, and the Eagles come into the game with eight missed extra points and a 29-yard punting average.
Trannard Cobb, a split end/defensive back, lines up in the Wildcat offense as a specialist and returns kicks. With 29.8 yards per return, he has one touchdown.
“If there is any advantage it might be in the kicking game, but that’s not going to matter if we can’t stop their tailback and fullback from making plays,” Porter said. “They really run the trap and fullback go well and the tailback ignites their football team.”
Seagraves has 952 yards rushing and Butler has carried for 532 yards plus 104 receiving with eight touchdowns. But quarterback Shane Kesler is a sophomore, and while connecting for 508 passing yards, has completed just 30 percent of his passes with nine interceptions.
Leading the defensive charge will be senior Ethan Hoffman and junior Taylor Wood, the linebacker tandem for White House with over 160 tackles combined.
“They are really explosive in the running game and from what I have seen on film, they haven’t had to throw it much,” Porter explained. “Cobb is a big play guy and really versatile where he can line up on offense and the big lineman (Sheffield) is 6-foot-2 and 310 and can cause a lot of havoc and a lot of problems up front.”
Playoff history is certainly on the side of the hosts with a record of 47-29, as Chester County has three playoff victories (3-10). This is the fifth season in a row the Eagles have reached the playoffs, losing to Greenbrier, 12-7, in 2010, and advancing to the quarterfinals in 2011 with a loss to Covington. They defeated Kingsbury and Mitchell in the first two rounds.
Kickoff is 7 p.m. at Dewey H. Whitson Stadium.