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SOUTH WHITLEY — For the best part of this football season, the Whitko Wildcats have ridden a strong running game to an undefeated 4-0 record in the Three Rivers Conference. But in Friday night’s matchup of conference unbeatens, Whitko and North Miami, two pass plays ultimately determined the outcome of the contest. The first was a 39-yard scoring strike by the Wildcats, and the second an interception deep in Whitko territory that preserved the 21-13 senior night win for the host Wildcats.
The Wildcats took a 3-0 lead early on a 23-yard field goal by senior placekicker Benjamin Bryan on the Wildcats opening drive. Highlights of the 54-yard drive included 29 yards rushing by running back Dakota Harmon, who would finish the night with 83 yards rushing.
North Miami came back on its first possession to take a 7-3 lead on a 21-yard end-around by Warrior receiver Austin See. The Warriors sustained the drive by converting a 15-yard fake punt pass on a fourth-and-one on the Whitko 42 yard line.
In the second quarter both teams missed long field goal attempts that left North Miami leading the Wildcats 7-3 at the half.
The visiting Warriors came out in the second half determined to test the Whitko secondary on their opening possession. North Miami quarterback Aaron Barker completed four of five passes for 87 yards, setting up a one-yard keeper for the touchdown that put Warriors up 13-3 following a missed extra point by kicker Colin Gibbs.
“We knew that they had all their skill kids back and that their quarterback could really throw the ball,” Whitko head coach Wayne Swender said. “We practiced all week long to defend it, but it’s hard to simulate that in practice. They are just a good team and they run the spread offense very well.”
The Wildcats closed the gap when quarterback Alex Stoddard hit senior Scott Skiles with a 16-yard touchdown pass that capped an 80-yard 10-play drive. With 7:22 left in the third quarter North Miami held a 13-10 lead.
On their next possession, the Wildcats relied mainly on the running game, and, aided by a 15-yard penalty against the Warriors on a horse-collar tackle, were able to move the ball to the North Miami 22-yard line where the drive stalled. The Wildcats were able to get a 39-yard field goal by Bryan to tie the score at 13-13 with 9:16 left in the game.
After forcing the Warriors to punt, Whitko took over on its own 20-yard line. An eight-yard loss on a third-and-five at the Whitko 17 forced the Wildcats to punt. The Warriors looked to get the ball in good field position following a short kick, but North Miami was whistled for roughing the punter giving the Wildcats a first down and sustaining the drive.
Following six straight running plays, quarterback Stoddard reared back and threw a 39-yard strike to a streaking Derek Snepp, who hauled in the pass as he fell into the end zone to give the Wildcats a 21-13 lead with 1:09 left in the game.
“We try to set up the pass with the running game,” Swender said. “Alex did a nice job of getting the pass off, and Derek did a nice job of getting open.”
The Warriors used a 27-yard return on the ensuing kickoff and a 14-yard completion to move the ball to the Wildcats 49 yard line with 53 seconds left on the clock.
North Miami quarterback Aaron Barker went deep on the next play, but the Wildcats’ Snep intercepted the ball at the Whitko 11 to end the Warriors chances and seal the 21-13 win for the Wildcats.
“We knew that these next three weeks were going to be tough games,” Swender commented. “We knew this would be a real test tonight.”
The win keeps the Wildcats undefeated in Three Rivers Conference play and in the hunt for the title as they travel to conference co-leader Rochester next Friday.