By Craig Harris for The News Examiner
Last Friday’s 35-25 victory over Page wasn’t easy nor smooth. In fact, the White House High School football team had to battle its way into the second round of the Class 4A playoffs.
However, Blue Devil head coach Jeff Porter put a positive spin on his squad’s ability to survive.
“There is no such thing as an ugly win in the playoffs,” Porter said. “If you win and get to practice another week, it’s beautiful.”
White House is hoping to see things through blue-tinted glasses late on Friday evening once again. In order for that to happen, the second-seeded Blue Devils will have to get past No. 3 seed Lexington, which visits Dewey H. Whitson Stadium on Friday evening.
“It would have been a disappointment to go home with two straight losses after the body of work our kids have achieved this year,” Porter said. “I thought it was one of the bigger wins for our program. Some may not understand that, but we knew as coaches that it was going to take something extra from our kids to beat them.”
Patriot quarterback Zak Mizell completed 31 of 54 passes last Friday for 424 yards, and though the White House defense bent, it didn’t break.
“We had not seen anything like that,” Porter said. “We knew that was not a good match-up for us. To fall behind and hold our poise and still find a way to win … the kids executed the fake punt to get us some momentum. They just found some ways to make plays.
“To go in halftime only giving up seven (points) in the first half was (good).”
The Blue Devils continue to utilize first-year player Alex Lyon more in their offensive scheme.
“We’ve been able to build some things with him as the season has gone along,” Porter said. “You try to shoot every bullet you’ve got.
“He’s a three-sport player. He’s a point guard in basketball, and he’s a shortstop in baseball. Those are pivotal positions on any team. At free safety, he’s able to use his athleticism to move around. He can catch the football. He has learned to throw the ball better as the year has gone on, and he uses his legs to make things happen.”
Lyon – a senior – has seen extensive action at free safety, having compiled 40 tackles (18 solo), six pass break-ups and two interceptions.
Against Page, Lyon carried the football eight times, resulting in 144 yards, four first downs and a 57-yard touchdown. He also completed three of four pass attempts for 33 yards.
Lyon is averaging 8.9 yards per carry, despite not having joined the team until the second week of its fall practice.
“He’s a very complete player,” Porter said. “I wish he’d have played four years, but we’re grateful he played his senior year. He’s one of the best athletes in the school, and he’s a great team player. This football team rallies together to try to give each other the best opportunity for success.
“He didn’t come to us until two weeks before the start of the season. He played well the other night, but the first thing he did was give credit to the offensive line. It gives us an idea of not only what he’s like as a kid but what our football team is like.”
White House senior tailback Alex Felts also rushed for more than 100 yards last Friday, the first time since the 2005 season that the Blue Devil program has had two 100-yard rushers in the same game. It was Felts’ fifth game that he has reached the 100-yard mark this season.
White House (9-2) is facing a Tiger squad that is similar in philosophy.
“It has a lot to do with your teams,” Porter said. “We’re not a big-play offense. Obviously, we’re going to eat clock if we’re going beat people. Fifty and 60-yard touchdown runs for other people are 20 and 30-yard runs for us.
“I see similarities. We have to take care of the football. That’s been our biggest challenge the last two weeks. You can’t turn it over and expect to stay in this thing. Us and Lexington do have some similarities. We have to make sure that we match their intensity.”
The Tigers rolled to a 21-0 victory over sixth-seeded Greenbrier last Friday. It was the team’s second shutout of the season.
Lexington (9-2) employs a 4-4 defensive front, led by senior defensive lineman Lamarcus Boales.
“They have an all-state lineman in Boales,” Porter said. “He’s a player. They’re M.O. (modus operandi) is being physical, being downhill.
“They have an oustanding placekicker and punter (sophomore Ryan Courtright, who has made 36 of 39 point-after touchdown kicks and two of three field-goal attempts, and junior Ryne Odle, who is averaging better than 37 yards per punt), so they are always able to create a long field. They test you.”
The Tigers have suffered both of their losses on the road, a 13-7 setback at Jackson North Side and a 35-14 loss at Crockett County.
Lexington operates out of an I-formation offense, led by senior fullback Tanner Kizer. Kizer has rushed for 1,504 yards and 22 touchdowns on 207 carries.
“They’re a power football team,” Porter said. “They’ll be just like JPII was two weeks ago (when the Blue Devils suffered an 18-10 loss to visiting Pope John Paul II High in the two teams’ regular-season finale). They’re an offense that lines up and comes right at you. They average about 260 in the line. The quarterback (freshman Tylan Johnson) is at least 220, 225 (pounds). He can throw the ball, and he’s like a big running back playing quarterback. The fullback (Kizer) is very good, and (sophomore tailback Tariqious) Tisdale is 6-foot-5 … he’s huge.
“They just like to get the ball and eat the clock. They ate the first eight minutes off of the clock against Greenbrier. They’re able to throw the football. It’s just not their make-up of what they want to do, but they can do it.”
The Blue Devils are 4-1 at home this season and 34-10 in home playoff games, possessing a 31-10 mark in playoff games played at White House Municipal Park’s Dewey H. Whitson Stadium.
“It’s a huge advantage if you allow it to be an advantage,” Porter – who has a 41-24 career playoff record (30-9 in home games) – said. “It’s a huge distraction if you allow it to be a distraction. We have to appreciate that two-mile drive instead that two-hour bus ride.
“We appreciate the opportunity to be at home, and I honestly think our kids do. That’s good. We need that 12th man there big-time.”
White House had senior tailback/linebacker Bailey Burns and junior split end/defensive back Josh Mullins in action last week after both missed considerable action against Pope John Paul II High in week 10 with injuries.
The Blue Devils have won nine of their last 10 second-round playoff games.
The Tiger program is in the playoffs for the 23rd time, and Lexington is 3-8 in the playoff round of 16.
The two programs have played just once, with the Tigers rolling to a 28-6 victory over visiting White House in a 2010 quarterfinal game.
The winner of the Lexington/White House game will face the winner of the Giles County/Pearl-Cohn contest in next week’s quarterfinal round.