Pencil in the Henry County High School football team for a berth in the Class 5A semifinal round of the state playoffs after the Patriots blanked the Springfield Yellow Jackets 23-0 on Friday night in Springfield.
Henry County (8-5) will meet Page High School of Franklin at 7 p.m. Friday at Page in the semifinals. Page knocked off Green Hill 31-14 in the quarterfinals. The other Class 5A semifinal will have Knoxville West taking on Powell. West rolled over Knoxville Central 63-26 while Powell beat Rhea County 27-13.
Patriot head coach James Counce Jr. said he knew early in the week his team was ready for the semifinal game against Springfield. He said the Patriots had been wanting a rematch with the Yellow Jackets ever since Springfield scored a 6-3 win at Patriot Stadium on Oct. 1.
“I knew on Tuesday that our guys were ready to play this game,” said Counce after the game on Friday in Springfield. “The rest of the week was spent going through the routine that we have to go through each week to prepare to play. But, I knew our guys were ready.”
Counce said he has a special group of coaches and players on the team this season. The Patriots have rebounded from a 3-5 start to win five straight games and advance to the semifinals for the second straight season.
“Every non-region team that we played from the preseason and throughout the season were all still playing tonight. That shows the quality of opponents that we have been playing this year. No, we didn’t have the kind of record that we wanted at one point this season. But every one of those highs and lows this team has been through has molded this group into the kind of team it is right now. All I can tell everyone is that you better get on the train,” said Counce.
Counce said playing football is special during the week of Thanksgiving.
“I am just so grateful for these guys to have that experience. We are going to do everything we can to be sure they are enjoying this trip through the playoffs. I grew up with football and through the years, I can’t think of anything more special than getting the chance to celebrate Thanksgiving with our families and then have a chance to play football the next day. It is just a very special part of the season that not many people get to experience,” Counce said.
FIRST QUARTER SCORELESS
Henry County’s defense showed it was going to be a big factor in the game by stopping Springfield on downs at the Patriots’ 35-yard line on the Yellow Jackets’ first possession of the game.
A third-down penalty slowed the Patriots just after moving across midfield and led to a punt. Springfield also punted the second time the Yellow Jackets had the ball and the Patriots began a drive that would lead to points when the second period began.
PATRIOTS SCORE TWO TIMES
Henry County started and finished the second quarter by scoring points. Tailback Cole Townsend started the scoring with a 25-yard touchdown run just seconds into the second period. Gavin Lindsey kicked the extra point to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead.
The Patriot defense forced Springfield into a punt attempt late in the period. Playing in wet, muddy field conditions, Springfield had a bad snap on the punt attempt and Patriot Jayce Kendall hit Yellow Jackets punter Logan Leftrick before he could get rid of the ball, causing a fumble that the Patriots recovered at the Yellow Jackets’ 40.
Henry County drove close enough for Aiden Frey to kick a 35-yard field goal with 10 seconds left in the quarter and give the Patriots a 10-0 halftime advantage.
QUICK SCORES SEAL THE VICTORY
Henry County got the opening kickoff of the second half and moved quickly into position to score a touchdown. The drive was aided by a 39-yard pass from quarterback Ryan Damron to Kendall that put the Patriots at Springfield’s 33.
A couple of plays later, Townsend dashed 15 yards to get inside the Yellow Jackets’ 1. He scored on the next play with Lindsey’s kick putting the Patriots’ lead at 17-0.
The Patriots elected to attempt an onside kick after the touchdown with the hard kick hitting a Springfield player in the leg and the Patriots recovering the ball. Springfield was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the play and the Patriots’ drive began at the Yellow Jackets’ 25. The Patriots drove in to score a touchdown on a six-yard run by Morgan Barrick to push Henry County’s lead to 23-0.
PATRIOTS WORK THE CLOCK
Henry County managed the clock to ensure the win in the fourth period. The Patriot defense did its part by holding the Yellow Jackets on downs on one series and forcing Springfield to punt from its own end zone on another.
The Patriots used a pooch punt by Damron from near midfield to help keep the Yellow Jackets pinned deep in their territory before time ran out on the Patriots’ victory.