Champs win, grasp share of region crown
WHITE HOUSE -- Coach Kenny Parker admitted he was concerned heading into Friday night's season finale against No. 8 White House-Heritage.
His Cascade Champions came out flat on the road in an atmosphere much like that of the playoffs with both teams playing for a Region 5-A title.
The ninth-ranked Champs (9-1, 8-1) turned the intensity up a notch shortly before halftime, jumped on the back of senior fullback Cory Phillips the final two quarters to win 31-21 and carried home a share of the region title for the first time in school history.
"They responded," Parker said. "They showed their character tonight. When you get knocked off your feet, that's when your true character comes."
Cascade now hosts sixth-ranked Collinwood (8-2, 6-2) at The Stable on Friday night in the opening round of the playoffs. The Champs are the No. 2 seed from Region 5. Fourth-ranked Jo Byrns (9-1, 8-1) takes the tiebreaker after defeating McEwen 42-7.
"We've got a little momentum going into the playoffs now," Parker said. "It's one game at a time now."
Patriot quarterback Joey McClung hit Dylan Kemp for a 40-yard gain on the opening series to head down to the Cascade 11-yard line. McClung found an open receiver in the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 5 but his receiver was unable to haul it in.
"We didn't get out of the gates real good and gave up the big play," Parker said.
The following series looked much like one from the previous week with the Champs marching to the Heritage 15 before going backward on consecutive plays and having to settle on a MoMo Stewart 45-yard field goal.
The Patriots (8-2, 7-2) pushed ahead 7-3 on a McClung keeper from a yard out. Then their defense forced a three-and-out to keep momentum on their side.
A 50-yard punt by Phillips backed Heritage up to their own 16 and the Champion defense got the ball right back by only allowing a mere 3 yards the following series.
Cascade took over at the Patriot 38 with 54 seconds to play in the opening half. They took advantage of the short field as quarterback Jacob Carkuff dropped a 38-yard pass into the outstretched arms of Julian Marable two plays later.
"We needed a big play right before halftime," Carkuff said. "We ran a 10-yard out and (Christian Pardue) bit hard on it. Julian ran a good route. I knew (Pardue) was going to bite on it next time.
"I got in the huddle and said, ‘Hey, give me time and it will be there.' I rolled out. The protection was perfect. I took my time and Julian made a great catch."
The pitch-and-catch put the Champs ahead 10-7, gave them the life they've been missing for several quarters and the opening 2:09 of the third stanza couldn't have been scripted any better.
Phillips lumbered 37 yards for a touchdown on the third Cascade play of the second half.
The next play from scrimmage Patriot tailback Lee Owen fumbled and the Champs fell on it.
A Matt Henderson 22-yard run set up a 1-yard TD plunge from Phillips. Stewart's third of four extra points made the score 24-7 with 9:51 left in the third.
"We told the kids at halftime, ‘The first three minutes of the second half is going to be big and for the offense to try to get one and put it in the end zone,'" Parker said. "They did that and executed.
"Matt blocked his tail off for Cory. And, Cory blocked his tail off for Matt."
Phillips and the ground game took over from there, moving the ball at will and chewing up the clock. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound freight train firmly placed its wheels on the track en route to 13 carries for 132 yards in the second half alone.
An eight-play, 80-yard drive took 4:01 off the clock and resulted in a Phillips 5-yard score to seal the win with 1:24 to go in the fourth.
Cascade's defense forced 12 incomplete passes and held the Patriots to 177 rushing yards on 40 carries without injured senior linebackers Josh Gathright, Nick Batts and Brandon Pickett.
"We talked about it all year. You've got to be ready ‘cause you never know when your number is going to be called," Parker said.
Chris Martin clogged the middle for the Champion defense and totaled a team-high 12 tackles. Ryan Morton tallied 10 stops, including a pair behind the line of scrimmage. Matt Bain and Blake Harvey both had eight tackles.
Henderson rushed 12 times for 80 yards. Carkuff was 4-for-5 passing for 52 yards.