Russell Welch blows up a Buccaneer, clearing a hole for Kendall Conley.
(Staff Photo by Christopher Dunn)
If this season has been a dream, don't wake up Whitewater. The Wildcats will be playing in the football final four for the first time in school history after Friday night's 24-3 win over the Allatoona Buccaneers.
"I'm kind of speechless. You start out the year with dreams and goals. Our first goal was to win the region and just see where you go from there," said Whitewater head coach Amos McCreary. "It's all coming true. The dream is coming true for us right now."
The dream is only coming true because of blood, sweat, and tears and the Cats are ready to spill a little more to keep the season going. This is a special time for Whitewater and they will give it their all. "We're telling the team don't take this for granted," said McCreary. "We've got a lot of young players on this team, but they have to know this may never happen again. You have to take the moment when it's there and go with it."
This week will bring a matchup with a great Gainesville Red Elephants squad. For Friday night, they could focus on their own achievements. The Wildcats won their twelfth straight game and did it in convincing fashion.
The Cat defense was ready to roll all night, limiting the Buccaneers to their fewest points this season. They held their 1,000 yard rusher to just 72 yards. Flying to the ball, the Cats flustered Allatoona and forced them into errors. Jared Vincent squashed an early drive by swamping the quarterback, forcing a fumble, and recovering it himself.
Also keeping the Buccaneers in check was punter Austin Barnard. Barnard was tremendous at pinning the Bucs in poor field position, downing three punts inside the ten yard line. It was a return to dominance after a rougher outing last week.
"I'm tickled to death to see Austin come back tonight," McCreary beamed. "He came back like a warrior. He did a great job."
Whitewater's offense broke through midway through the second quarter. Running backs Kendall Conley and Christian Wafford battered the defense on the 65 yard scoring drive. Quarterback Jay Ashley hooked up with Jonathan Womack to put the team just outside of the goal line. Wafford did the rest on a one yard plunge. Sam Leathers's extra point staked the Cats to a 7-0 lead.
Allatoona tried to answer back, setting themselves up in great position with a long kick return. The Wildcat defense was unfazed, quickly taking the ball back when Matt Oggle forced a turnover.
There was just enough time for the Cats to score again before halftime even when things looked ugly. On third and five from the 19, Jay Ashley dropped the snap, but cooly picked it up and rushed around the right end and past the defense into the end zone. Leathers's extra point gave Whitewater a 14-0 lead heading into the locker room.
Whitewater appeared ready to put things away right out of halftime, but a questionable call briefly put that on hold. Allatoona's quarterback wheeled around and threw the ball back to his running back who could not corral the pass. Dylan Davis fell on the ball which should have given his team the ball back. Instead, the refs ruled what appeared to be a backwards lateral an incomplete pass.
It was no matter as the Cats would still force a three and out and then get a turnover the refs could not take away on their next defensive stand. Christian Wafford stood up the Bucs running back and stripped the ball that Colton Clemons pounced on. Whitewater would take advantage of the turnover, taking on a 39 yard Sam Leathers field goal for a 17-0 lead late in the third quarter.
Allatoona would get another big kick return deep into Wildcat territory, but would have to settle for a 29 yard field goal to make it 17-3.
Whitewater looked to put the game away on their next possession, but a 38 yard touchdown was called back. Instead, after another big defensive stand set them up in the red zone, Kendall Conley would ice the game with a one yard touchdown run with less than a minute to play.
Conley continued his dominant 2012 season with 141 yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries. Just another in a long line of great games, Conley's showing pushed him over 2,000 yards for the year to go along with 36 touchdowns.
Christian Wafford added 50 yards rushing on nine carries.
With such dominance on the ground, you have to give a ton of credit to the boys in the trenches.
"The offensive line mashed it in there pretty good," praised McCreary.
Wafford led the defense with 10 tackles and a forced fumble.
The tremendous team effort has the Wildcats just one win away from a shot at the state title. For the school opened in 2004, it's their shot to play on the biggest stage.
"It's our first final four at Whitewater and it couldn't be any sweeter o see the smiles on the kids' faces," said McCreary. "We've been waiting on this a long time."