By Kris Freeman for White House High School
CUNNINGHAM – There’s a picture on the wall at White House High School’s field house called “Building a Burden” with a rain-soaked player on the field from the 1980s.
Friday night’s win in a thunderstorm delay at Montgomery Central looked a lot like the same old White House which dominated the gridiron for decades, with a 7-0 shutout after an opening touchdown drive.
The victory pushed the Devils to 3-6, and left them one win over Greenbrier in the final week of the season from making the Class 4-A playoffs. White House will go for the postseason berth at 7 p.m. next Friday night on senior night at home. It was the 850th game in White House football history.
White House marched eight plays and 68 yards in the first four minutes of the game Friday, when Evan Shankle plunged in from three yards away and Bryson Harper kicked the extra point. For the remainder of the game, White House turned in one of its best defensive efforts of the decade, allowing only 68 yards of total offense by the Indians and seven first downs.
Shankle set up the score with a 50-yard run on third down.
“Anytime you can come up and play through the elements and the weather like this and get a win, we are thankful,” White House head coach Ryan Hamilton said. “It may not be the prettiest win, but it’s a win and we needed it, and we have to finish the job next week.”
Shankle, starting for two weeks at tailback in place of the injured Ranen Blackburn, rushed 24 times for 117 yards and a touchdown, and then split time at tailback and fullback in the second half as Blackburn returned for the first time in seven quarters of football since his injury against Heritage.
While Blackburn also added 64 yards on the ground, he completed 3-of-6 passes for 79 yards in the passing game.
“I am used to playing fullback and blocking for Ranen, so it’s definitely different,” Shankle said. “It’s been a nice change. I love running the ball. I don’t ever take a play off, it’s definitely more tiring but I just have to work through it. It’s a nice 1-2 punch though.
“Next week, we gotta win. We gotta make it to the playoffs.”
The story was also the White House defense. Montgomery Central was at the White House 33 after a 62-yard kick return following the touchdown, but the Blue Devils forced three punts and picked off three passes, while allowing just 1-of-8 third down conversions.
“I am very proud of our team, very proud of our coaches,” Hamilton said. “Our coaches coached their tail off and our kids played their tails off. The kids played together as a unit and played for each other and that’s all you can ask for.”
Matthew Miller ended one Central scoring threat with an interception at the 8-yard-line, then Bryson Harper picked off two passes in the fourth quarter. The first was a floater at the goal line with 5:43 left, and the second was leaping at the desperation heave from midfield with the clock hitting zero in the fourth quarter. Harper had two receptions for 56 yards, two interceptions, two passes broken up, three tackles, punted twice for 73 yards, and had a PAT kick and a 24-yard kick return.
The crucial play of the game from Harper was in the fourth quarter with just 20 seconds left. With the Blue Devils pinned inside the 20 and facing fourth down, Harper punted a low, bouncing kick past midfield and set up his game-sealing interception.
Central got three passes off, with Harper and Austin Beeson swatting down the first two, then the final one was picked off as the junior tip-toed the home sideline.
“I was just trying to get it on the ground so they don’t have time to do anything with it,” Harper said. “On defense we are just trying to swat it down at the end of the game.”
Shankle, as usual, played nearly every play in all three phases of the game, and led the defense with 12 tackles and three tackles for losses. Cole Pitt had two sacks, three tackles for losses and nine total tackles, but one of the sacks was waved off following a penalty for roughing the passer, as Pitt caught his hand under the back of the helmet on the hard tackle.
Caleb Dorris, Pierce Scholato and Rhys Blackburn all had five stops for White House.
Central could not gain anything solid on offense minus a 25-yard rush in the fourth quarter. But the Blue Devils kept them in the game with penalties, backing up as far as a 2nd-and-34 in the third quarter. Reece McAfee caught a 23-yard strike from Blackburn on third down, but the Devils went deep on fourth down.
Blackburn’s long toss down the right sideline to Harper fell incomplete on a play where the receiver had a wet ball but a clear path to the end zone, giving the ball over on downs. But when the Indians went three plays and out, White House went on the attack again.
The Devils marched nine plays and 57 yards into Montgomery Central territory, starting the possession on their own 8. But on third and long, Blackburn again went deep over the top and couldn’t connect to a leaping Dorris. On fourth down, the Blue Devils went for it from the Central 35-yard-line, and a roll-out pass to Layne Jenkins fell incomplete.
As Blackburn was slammed to the ground while throwing the football, there was hard contact between the Central defender, Jenkins and McAfee, but the incomplete call gave it back to the hosts.
That’s when Central ripped off a 25-yard run to put it into White House territory, but the drive stalled when the Devils forced a sack by Pitt, and then picked off the pass at the 1. The ball was under thrown and Harper was the front man of three defensive backs and took the interception.
White House could not completely run out the clock before punting it away with just seconds left in the game.
Dylan Frary started his second game at quarterback, and had a critical fourth down sneak for three yards, but then shared time with Blackburn as the Devils rotated traditional and wildcat quarterback formations in the second half.
“We operated in the same mindset as the last couple of weeks and put the players on the field who need to make plays for us,” Hamilton said. “We got Shankle playing both offense and defense, and then we had a chance to get Blackburn back in and get him going and see what we can do.
“I think right now we keep it simple. We got to practice hard and get healthy and we have to get ready for next week and we are not going to look any farther than that.”
White House (3-6, 2-3) will face Greenbrier in week 11. The Bobcats and Devils have three losses to the same teams, and two wins over the same teams. The formula is simple – the winner gets the number four seed behind Springfield, Creek Wood and White House Heritage for the playoffs.
The loser is done.
Kickoff is 7 p.m. at Dewey H. Whitson Stadium with Senior Night presentations at 6:30 p.m. for Sam Abshire, Nathan Bowman, Yaser Mahmoud, Drew Ferrell, Layne Jenkins, Evan Shankle, Hunter Searcy, Cole Hollinsworth and Quad Lucas.
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