Hoffman, Blue Devils huge on fourth down

Fourth down defense pushes Devils to round of 16 in Class 4-A

By Kris Freeman for the White House Tribune

(White House) – Senior Ethan Hoffman made the biggest tackle of his life Friday night, and his classmate put the icing on the cake with a 44-yard touchdown run for a 24-10 victory at home over Chester County in the TSSAA first round.

Midway through the fourth quarter, White House led 17-10 when the visiting Eagles lined up for the fifth time in the game on fourth down. Junior Wesley James darted underneath to grab the feet of Chester County’s Tyler Seagraves, and Hoffman barreled him high for a two-yard loss. The ball was turned over on downs, and it was Hoffman’s second fourth down stop of his 10 tackles in the game.

Blue Devils tailback Grant Wicker wasted no time putting the game away, breaking two tackles and darting to the end zone for the 24-10 edge. The momentum swing was crucial, coming just four plays after Chester County speedster Trannard Cobb dropped a wide-open deep pass on the visitor sideline which would have likely tied the game.

Wicker rushed for 153 yards and three touchdowns, and the Eagles opened the game with a gift to put him and his team on the board early. Junior Taylor Wood and senior Jarrison English tag-teamed a vicious hit on Seagraves and sophomore Josh Mullins recovered the fumble at the 19-yard-line two plays into the game.

Wicker leaped over the line for a touchdown moments later with Chase Dunlap booting the kick for a 7-0 White House lead.

Dillon Anderson’s career-long, 41-yard field goal made it 10-0 for the hosts at the half and White House marched the length of the field for a touchdown to start the third quarter to build it to 17-0. The advantage was strengthened by the Blue Devil defense which held Chester County to 257 total yards, forced a fumble and an interception, and shut down the Eagles on third and fourth down. Chester County made just 1-of-11 conversions on third down and struggled to just 2-of-6 on fourth down.

Late in the game, Wood intercepted Sam Kesler near midfield on fourth down to end the final threat with his team up 14. But that was not before Cobb broke loose on a 30-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to cut the margin to 17-7, and Brennan Conaway nailed a 34-yard field goal in the fourth to make it 17-10.

White House punted three times and the last came with 5:38 remaining in the fourth quarter and the hosts clinging to a seven-point lead.

Kesler dropped to throw on first down at the 36, and Cobb (who had six catches for 80 yards in the game) beat his man by three steps. Kesler’s pass dropped right into his arms, and then to the turf as Cobb limped back to the sideline slowly.

Seagraves carried for three yards and then Josh Mullins tackled Cobb one-yard shy of the chains. Mullins had 10 tackles in the game and a 19-yard reception on offense.

Seagraves was swarmed on the right side by Hoffman and James with 4:29 left to set up the winning touchdown by Wicker.

Unfortunately for Cobb, the bad luck wasn’t over. Immediately Chester County went back to work with time against them, and Kesler again launched a pass to a wide open Cobb. This time Chris Mullins got a finger tip on the throw and Cobb once again dropped a sure touchdown.

Three plays later, the game was over as Wood slid to the turf with the ball in his hands at the 45. Wood led all players with 15 tackles.

The White House offense was sharp despite a lost fumble and an interception, and Ryan Pool completed 9-of-16 passes for 92 yards. Chris Mullins caught four for 53 and James and Caleb Sabin each grabbed two for short yardage. The Blue Devils had 18 first downs and 320 total yards, scoring every time in the red zone until kneeling on the football at the 14 after two Bailey Burns runs of 18 and 14 yards.

Kesler and Cobb completed 9-of-16 passes for 132 yards, and Cobb was the leading rusher with eight carries for 55 yards for the Eagles. Seagraves added 53 on 20 rushes, but fullback Matthew Butler was held to just four yards on three attempts.

The win was big. It was the third time in 31 years a 5-5 White House team has won its first-round playoff game, guaranteeing no worse than a .500 record. White House (6-5) has not had a losing season since 1981.

A rematch with Maplewood awaits, as the higher-seeded Devils host the Panthers in the second round. Maplewood beat White House in the Class 4-A quarterfinals in 2011, 31-0.

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