By Kris Freeman for White House High School
LEXINGTON – The powerful rushing offense of the Lexington Tigers flexed its muscle and its quickness Friday night in the first round of the TSSAA Class 4-A Playoffs, eliminating an upstart and underdog White House team, 34-7.
Despite being a heavy favorite over the Blue Devils, the Tigers had to scratch and claw early in a physical contest that turned on miscues and big plays. White House (4-7) ended its season, while Lexington (10-1) will host Creek Wood in round two.
“Our goal before the Montgomery Central and Greenbrier games was to make it to Monday and still have a chance to keep playing, and nothing was different going into this week,” said White House head coach Ryan Hamilton. “Lexington is a very good football team, but I am extremely proud of our kids and our coaches. We fought hard. We did not quit. We played it to the very end like this was our last shot and that’s call we can ask for.”
Tailback Isiah McClaine and quarterback Jordan Smith combined for 390 yards rushing and five touchdowns, and the Tigers even had three additional big runs taking off the stat sheet when a clean game got ugly with penalties in the fourth quarter. McClaine rushed 19 times for 171 yards and three scores, while Smith broke loose for 219 yards on just 10 carries with a pair of touchdowns. Lexington had 396 yards of total offense but only 14 first downs, resulting from an explosive series of scoring drives.
On the five possessions in which the Tigers scored, it took just 13 plays total.
As a result, White House dominated time of possession, and started the game doing exactly what the game plan called for. The Devils kept the ball for the first eight plays of the game, including a pass to senior Layne Jenkins and rushes by junior quarterback Ranen Blackburn. But when penalties backed up the Devils to 3rd-and-14 at the 32-yard line, Blackburn went deep to junior Reese McAfee.
McAfee leaped and appeared to make the catch past midfield, but Dante Bard turned and swatted the ball away. The Blue Devils lined up to punt and the snap sailed over the head of Bryson Harper to the five yard line and McClaine cashed in for the 7-0 lead on the first play.
White House went three-and-out and Lexington drove five plays and 62 yards to score and take a 14-0 edge, but White House quickly made a game of it.
After a defensive stop and a 35-yard punt return by Harper, White House scored on the fourth play. Blackburn fired a strike to a streaking Harper near the post, and the junior hauled in the 22-yard touchdown and kicked the extra point to make it 14-7.
Unfortunately, it took Lexington two plays and 54 seconds to make it 21-7, when McClaine rushed for 51 and then Smith for 29 to score. Connor Wood, a TSSAA Mr. Football semifinalist for Kicker of the Year, make the third of four PATs on the night, even though the fifth one hit the upright and missed late in the game.
Facing 3rd-and-24 with just over a minute left in the first half, White House went deep and a pass interference waved off an interception, as Blackburn was looking for Jenkins on the home sideline. But without an automatic first down, the Devils could not pick up the first down on the next play and lined up to punt. Harper snuck to the line of scrimmage and quick snapped and threw long, and the pass was intercepted at the Lexington 35.
The Tigers busted into White House territory and then were aided by a 15-yard penalty, setting up a final shot at the end zone. Harper and Smith collided on a deep ball in the corner which fell incomplete to keep it 21-7. It was a chance worth taking, as a potential penalty would have been only 15 yards and resulted in an untimed down as a worst case scenario.
But 54 seconds into the third, Smith scored on a 60-yard run and made it 28-7, and McClaine added a 27-yard touchdown in the fourth for the 34-7 final. White House may have ended the season, but got an extra game out of a team that just three weeks ago was 2-6 and one loss from elimination from postseason contention.
“We told our kids before the game what we are all about and believe in, and what a great school town and program we are a part of,” Hamilton said. “No matter the situation our school town and team will rise up to the occasion and give everything we have for each other.
“Our seniors have done nothing short of that in this crazy time, and for all the adversity they have fought though, this senior class will be forever remembered in our programs history. This is truly a great group of young men and we can’t thank them enough for what they have done for the school town and program this year. They have inspired our underclassmen to just keep showing up and working.”
As White House continued to try and move the football, the fourth quarter turned sloppy and ugly. White House entered the fourth with eight penalties in the game, mostly five-yard infractions at the line of scrimmage. But Lexington was penalized seven times alone in the final frame, ending the game with 12 penalties for 130 yards. White House had nine for 68.
Blackburn finished his junior season with 151 yards on 24 carries, plus 5-of-9 passing for 69 yards and a score. Senior Evan Shankle carried 10 times for 37 yards in his final game. White House got two catches from McAfee for 32 yards and three from Harper for 37.
White House had 13 first downs and 27:52 of possession time, but failed to move the chains at critical times. The Blue Devils were 3-of-9 on third down and 0-of-3 on fourth down, missing on a trick play on fourth down at the Lexington goal line in the fourth quarter when Shankle took the run, tossed back to Blackburn, and then had the pass to him broken up in the corner of the end zone.
Pierce Scholato and Shankle each had eight tackles unofficially and Harper made five stops and broke up two passes.
During the game, Ranen Blackburn passed Joey Lamborn for 7th all time on the career rushing list at White House High School with 2,891 total yards.
Photos for White House BDP by Angelene Cotto-Santiago, Brooklyn Sharber and Maggie Kelly