By Andy Telli for Main Street Preps
WHITE HOUSE – It was a record-setting night for the White House Blue Devils as they overcame a 13-point deficit to beat their Sumner County rival Portland Panthers 55-40 at Dewey H. Whitson Stadium on Friday.
With a combined 14 touchdowns in the game, it was the highest-scoring game in the history of the series between the two schools, which stretches back to 1943. The win now gives White House an all-time record of 27-26 over Portland.
The annual game against the school’s biggest rival “means a ton to our community, our past players, our past coaches,” said White House Coach Ryan Hamilton, a former White House player himself. “I got a lot of texts today before the game.”
But his team remained focused on the job at hand, he said. “I’m just very proud of our guys.”
It was a big night for two White House seniors.
Coming into the game quarterback Ranen Blackburn needed 30 yards passing to become the first player in school history to both rush and pass for more than 1,000 yards in their career. Blackburn reached the milestone on the Blue Devils’ first play from scrimmage when he connected with Bryson Harper for a 30-yard completion.
“I can’t take all the credit,” for his record-setting career, Blackburn said, heaping praise on his offensive line.
For the game, Blackburn completed 6 of 7 passes for 82 yards. He rushed for 142 yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries.
His partner in the backfield, Reece McAfee rushed for 201 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. It was the first time he had rushed for more than 200 yards in a game.
McAfee’s two touchdowns came in the fourth quarter on runs of 57 and 46 yards to snuff out a potential Portland comeback.
“Reece McAfee put us on his shoulder tonight and was our closer,” Hamilton said.
The game featured a lot of offensive fireworks from both teams. The Blue Devils had 447 yards of total offense while the Panthers racked up 428. Five of Portland’s six touchdowns came on plays that covered 66, 61, 60, 53 and 25 yards.
Junior Freddy Paxton gained 130 yards and scored twice on runs of 60 and 66 yards on nine carries for Portland. Braylen Dowlen added a touchdown and 63 yards rushing and four catches for 154 yards and two more scores. Quarterback Braden Thornton completed seven of 12 passes for 199 yards and the two touchdowns.
The Panthers jumped out to a 27-14 lead on the strength of Paxton’s touchdown runs of 60 and 66 yards, a 61-yard touchdown catch and run by Dowlen, and a 7-yard touchdown run by Hunter Mayes.
White House, which scored earlier on a 15-yard run by Harper and a 3-yard run by Blackburn, cut the deficit to 27-21 on a 10-yard touchdown run by Blackburn with :52 left in the first half.
But on the ensuing kickoff, Portland senior Elijah Allen took the short kick, slipped past the White House tacklers, and returned the ball 40 yards to the White House 32-yard line.
A Paxton reception that covered 27 yards put the ball on the White House 1 with :05 left. The Panthers lined up for a field goal and Hamilton called time out.
Portland Coach Wes Inman changed his mind and decided to go for the touchdown instead on an inside hand-off to Dowlen.
“Normally it’s a highly successful play,” Inman said. “They were in the perfect defense to stop what we wanted to do.”
White House’s Nathan Seipp sliced into the Portland backfield and dropped Dowlen for a 2-yard loss to end the half.
“That was huge,” Hamilton said.
“It really changed the momentum for us,” Blackburn said.
“It was one of the biggest plays of the game,” chipped in McAfee.
In the second half, White House scored on a 2-yard run by Montrel Black and runs of 5 and 19 yards by Blackburn to take a 41-27 lead.
Dowlen scored on a 53-yard run and a 25-yard catch to keep Portland within striking distance, but McAfee’s two long fourth quarter runs sealed the win.
The last score was designed as an inside run, McAfee said. But he saw room outside and bounced it to the sideline before cutting back and outracing the Portland defense to the end zone, McAfee explained.
“They’re big and physical,” Inman said of White House. “When they needed to make plays, they made plays.”
He was proud of his players, Inman said. “They never gave up.”
The loss drops Portland’s record to 2-2 on the season. Next Friday, they play Clarksville Northeast in a crucial Region 7-5A matchup.
White House improved its record to 3-1 and will next play Thursday against Waverly at Nissan Stadium in Nashville in a Region 6-3A contest.