Hanging Tough: Wildcats spoil Whitehouse's dreams of another last-second comeback
Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

Sept. 9, 2006 - For the second straight week, Whitehouse was gunning to pull off a last-second victory. But, this time, the Sulphur Springs Wildcats had more bullets.

The Wildcats built a 35-13 halftime lead, then recovered a pair of fourth-quarter onside kick attempts to stave off Whitehouse, 42-36, Friday in Sulphur Springs' home opener at Gerald Prim Stadium.

The Wildcats scored touchdowns on five of their seven first-half possessions, outplayed Whitehouse in the kicking game, and came away with three turnovers to even their record at 1-1.

The two teams came into the game riding different waves of emotion. Whitehouse (1-1) kicked a last-second field goal to beat Forney last week, while Sulphur Springs was handed a 32-7 defeat by McKinney.

But, the Wildcats took control of the game early with an efficient offense and opportunistic defense that led them to a 21-0 lead early in the second period.

SSHS head coach Greg Owens said there is a definite connection between the good start and the final result.

"I think our success was built on the way we started. We started with some confidence, we took the ball and moved it down the field," he said. "We took the ball and drove it down the field, kind of like McKinney did last week, and that gave us a little confidence. Everything we've been preaching this week, they seemed to do it."

Junior quarterback Brittan Diamond had a hand in all five SSHS touchdowns. He ran for three short TDs, and threw scoring passes to Tarron Wright and Jeff Beck for the others. Diamond finished with 94 yards rushing on 32 carries, and was 14-of-25 for 165 yards in the passing department.

Sophomore quarterback Tyrick Rollison played three series and ended up with 56 yards rushing on seven totes and completed 4-of-8 passes for 39 yards.

Rollison also recovered Whitehouse's final onside kick with 1:08 to play in the game to finally seal the victory.

Whitehouse scored two TDs in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter to put Wildcat fans on the edge of their seats. But, onside kick recoveries by Tyler Rhoades and Rollison, plus a diving interception by Tanner Higgins with 3:19 to play blunted the Whitehouse comeback.

Luke Shivers, who the Wildcats held to just 25 yards rushing, scored from 2-yards out with 5:18 to play, then Whitehouse quarterback Chad Emmons scrambled in from 9-yards away with 1:09 to play. But, it was too late.

"I was proud of the way we came out. Offensively, we executed, and defensively we answered," Owens said. "Our defense got put in a bind sometimes, but they made some plays."

The game started favorably for Sulphur Springs.

The Wildcats took advantage of excellent field position - thanks to Quentin Long downing Jon Holt's 40-yard punt at the 1-yard line - and after a series of punts cashed in their first TD with 4:04 to play in the first quarter.

Facing a third-and-10 from the Whitehouse 18, Diamond dumped off a screen pass to sophomore Tarron Wright, who juked his way behind his blockers all the way to the end zone. Holt's extra point gave the Wildcats a 7-0 lead.

The Wildcats would make it 21-0 on their next two possessions. Diamond scored on a 1-yard run to cap a 27-yard, seven-play drive set up by a 15-yard fumble return by sophomore linebacker Rashad Hall, who also had five tackles. 

Sulphur Springs added a 2-yard TD run by Diamond on its first possession of the second quarter to go up 21-0. The drive was spurred by an 18-yard reception by Rollison, who came into the game at wide receiver, and a 10-yard reception by Wright to convert third downs.

But, Whitehouse has some firepower and showed it on the next possession. It took just two plays - a 32-yard sliding reception by Shivers, and then a 31-yard TD catch by Chris Leonard - for Whitehouse to get on the scoreboard. 

Owens knew Whitehouse wouldn't stay down for long.

"They're a good ball club. They can move the ball on anybody. The Shivers kid had a rough first half and didn't really get on track, but we kept countering and kept coming back and kept firing on them.," he said. "A team like that, you've got to outscore them because they've got a lot of weapons and they know what they're doing."

Whitehouse ended with 178 yards rushing on 23 carries, led by 84 yards on the ground by Jimmy Kennedy, and Emmons threw for 184 yards though he was intercepted twice.

The Wildcats answered with a 77-yard scoring drive of their own as Diamond started the series by hitting Tyler Rhoades for 13 yards and DaQualin "Boo" Evans for 15. But, Diamond had to leave the game to repair his helmet, so Rollison came in and kept the drive going. He ran for 14 yards, threw a pass to Jeff Beck for eight more, then ran another 12 to get the ball inside the 5-yard line. Diamond came back in and finished off the drive with a 2-yard TD run to put the Wildcats up, 28-7.

Again, Whitehouse came back with a quick scoring drive. It took just three plays to cut the deficit to 28-13 as Kennedy busted a run up the middle for 43 yards to paydirt. Long, though, blocked Paul Metzner's PAT kick.

Sulphur Springs used a quick scoring drive of its own - 53 yards in two plays - to answer. On the drive's second play from the Whitehouse 41, Diamond scrambled to his right and found Beck behind the secondary. Beck caught the bomb at the goal line and fell into the end zone to give SSHS a 35-13 lead. He finished with 106 yards on six catches.

The score stayed that way at halftime as Gibson pulled down an interception at his own 3-yard line.

"Our intensity was very high in the first half," said Diamond. "We came out and got after them, which is what we needed to do. We came out knowing what we needed to do, and that was to execute. They came back and gave us a little scare, but we overcame it."

The Wildcat defense, led by linebackers Josh Dunn with 10 tackles and Clay Wilks with eight, held Whitehouse on the first possession of the second half, but Whitehouse's defense struck back on the next series.

Steven Hicks intercepted Diamond's pass at the 35-yard line and returned it down the visitors' sideline all the way to the end zone to cut the SSHS lead to 35-21.

But, the Wildcats responded on their biggest drive of the night. Rollison connected with Beck on two key plays, a 24-yard gain to get the ball to midfield, then Beck made a leaping 10-yard catch on fourth-and-5 from the Whitehouse 22 to keep the drive alive.

Rollison's 9-yard run took the ball down to the 3-yard line. From there, it took the Wildcats six plays to punch it in. Whitehouse was called for pass interference on third down, then two plays later, Diamond crashed over from the right side for a 42-21 lead.

Behind the offensive line of Colt Hooten, A.J. Johnson, Jacob Jenkins, Kevin Rape and Levi Moore, the Wildcats generated 27 first downs and 364 yards of total offense.

"That drive was tremendous. That was really big," Owens said. "The offensive line did a super job on pass protection. We've still got some things to work on - when it takes you seven times to get the ball in on the goal line, you've got some things to work on."

The Wildcats face Denison next week (a 56-31 loser to Waxahachie), and their performance on Friday should give them motivation and confidence to win on the road.

"It gives the kids some confidence and it gives the coaching staff some validity," Owens said. "We've been preaching all week to do the little things, work hard and it'll pay off for you. We needed it to pay off tonight for the kids, the coaches, for everybody. It's been a long road since Aug. 7. It's been hot, and it's been a hard road for these guys."

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