Heatbreak at Hanby: Whitehouse steals bi-district victory with fourth-quarter rally

By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY | News-Telegram Sports Editor

Nov. 17, 2007 - MESQUITE - For 3 1/2 quarters Friday night, the Sulphur Springs Wildcats did enough right to control their bi-district playoff game with Whitehouse, taking as much as an 18-point lead.

But, destiny gave way to Murphy's Law in the last six minutes.

Whitehouse pulled off a stunning comeback, coming up with a pair of turnovers and scoring 21 points in the final six minutes of the game to come away with a 33-30 victory at Mesquite's Hanby Stadium that was absolutely gut-wrenching for the Wildcats and their large following.

The Class 4A, Division II bi-district match-up was billed as a showdown between a pair of high-scoring offenses, but it was Whitehouse's defense that made two critical plays to turn the tide of the game, coming up with interceptions that led to touchdowns just 62 seconds apart.

Sulphur Springs answered with a quick-strike TD of its own with 2:33 to play to retake the lead, but Whitehouse scored again with 41 seconds remaining to complete the comeback.

The loss ends the Wildcats' season at 9-2 under head coach Greg Owens. It was a complete turn-around from last year's 2-8 mark.

"What a great group of kids. They've given everything we've asked all year long. The senior leadership has been tremendous," Owens said. "I love every kid and what they've invested in this program."

It appeared that the Wildcats would play again next week when they got a first down at the Whitehouse 32-yard line with about six minutes left while leading 24-12.

But, on the next play, SSHS quarterback Tyrick Rollison threw an out route toward receiver DaQualin Evans, who had already hauled in eight passes against freshman cornerback Quincy Aldridge. On this play, Aldridge jumped the route, made a juggling interception and returned the ball all the way to the SSHS 22-yard line. In those few seconds, the complexion of the game changed.

Whitehouse scored an 11-yard TD on a pass from quarterback Brady Attaway to Asher Williams to pull to within 24-18 with 4:13 left.

Then, on Sulphur Springs' very next play from scrimmage, Rollison found Jeff Beck on a 13-yard crossing pattern, but Beck and Whitehouse safety Steven Hicks both came down with the ball at the SSHS 40-yard line. The officials left them grapple on the ground before awarding possession to Hicks.

It was a questionable call from the Tyler chapter officials - dual possession goes to the offensive receiver - and it set up Whitehouse's next TD, a 2-yard run by Chad Lewis and a PAT by Taylor Burns to give Whitehouse its first lead of the game at 25-24 with 3:11 to play.

Sulphur Springs answered quickly when Rollison hit wide receiver Chris Thompson on a post route that Thompson turned into a 34-yard TD reception with 2:33 to play. The Wildcats were up 30-25 after missing on a two-point conversion try.

Whitehouse, though, marched right back down the field, traveling 60 yards in seven plays, ending with Hicks' 4-yard game-winning run.

Sulphur Springs tried to move the ball downfield on its final possession, but the game ended when Rollison's final pass from the Whitehouse 43-yard line sailed out of the end zone.

Rollison finished the game with 33 completions in 54 attempts for 348 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. Thompson was his top target, catching nine passes for 120 yards, all in the second half.

The Wildcat defense held Attaway to 238 yards through the air on 22-of-35 passing. Until the short field and Whitehouse momentum put them in a bind in the fourth quarter, the defense was outstanding, led by linebacker Josh Dunn's 14 tackles and an interception, junior Dillon Verner's 10 tackles, sophomore safety Bryant Jackson defending three passes and junior safety Johnny McSheffery's 35-yard interception return for a touchdown.

"I was proud of our defense," Owens said. "Our offense stumbled tonight in a big way. We just couldn't get clicking for whatever reason. Whitehouse took advantage of our mistakes.

"Our defense did an outstanding job. They came up short at the end, but they had to defend a bunch of plays."

Sulphur Springs had trouble running the ball, getting 38 yards on 23 carries, and Owens said it was that inability that didn't allow them to salt the game away in the fourth quarter.

"We wanted to eat clock up earlier in the game, but we just couldn't," he said. "We don't have an effective running game right now where we can line up and pound people."

The Wildcats did most of their damage through the air, taking a 14-0 lead in the first period on two TD connections from Rollison to Evans, who caught eight passes for 85 yards. Both TDs were set up by Sulphur Springs special teams' plays.

On Sulphur Springs' second possession, the Wildcats were forced to punt, but the punt was muffed by Whitehouse, and SSHS junior Quentin Long recovered at the Whitehouse 47-yard line.

SSHS converted on a 12-yard catch by Evans, and Oscar Marroquin's PAT gave SSHS a 7-0 lead with 5:21 to play in the first period.

Whitehouse didn't cover Marroquin's ensuing kickoff, and SSHS senior Dalton Abner recovered it at the 24-yard line, giving the Wildcats a short field that they quickly turned into a 34-yard TD from Rollison to Evans. Thompson opened the way for Evans with a great block on the cornerback.

Whitehouse answered with a 53-yard drive capped by a 13-yard TD connection from Attaway to Bart Henderson on fourth down.

The Wildcats kept Whitehouse off the scoreboard for the remainder of the half as safety Jayden Wallace, cornerback Darrell Franklin and Verner all made tackles for loss of yardage.

Marroquin ended the first half with a 29-yard field goal, his sixth of the season, to stake Sulphur Springs to a 17-6 advantage.

The Wildcats kept up the defensive pressure in the second half as Dunn ended Whitehouse's first drive with an interception at the 5-yard line and Bryant Jackson helped defend a long third-down pass intended for Whitehouse's Henderson on the next drive.

Several times, the Wildcats had the 6-3 Jackson move to cornerback to cover 6-2 Henderson when they suspected a fade route. Each time, Jackson defended the pass.

Whitehouse's next two possessions ended when Brittan Diamond made a tackle for a 2-yard loss on third-and-2, and then McSheffery came up with his interception on third down. Attaway tried to hit Henderson on a deep slant, but McSheffery caught the overthrown ball at the Whitehouse 35 and raced all the way into the end zone to give SSHS a 24-6 lead with 4:04 to play in the third period.

Whitehouse countered with a 63-yard drive that ended with Henderson catching a 10-yard TD pass to draw to within 24-12.

The score stayed that way until the final gut-wrenching six minutes.

"We played bad, bottom line," Owens said. "We didn't execute, but that didn't put a damper on what these guys accomplished. We had it, but we just couldn't finish it.

"Whitehouse did what they had to do - they did it all year long. They took advantage of the mistakes we made, and we made a bunch of them. I hate to end on this note, because we had the game won. We really did."

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