Wildcats secure win against Jacksonville Indians

by Aaron Swink Contributing Sports Writer

When the Jacksonville Fightin' Indians and Whitehouse Wildcats have played in recent years, the record books could go out the window. The series which saw a long run of Indian dominance in the 1990s before the 'Cats piled up the wins in the early-to-mid 2000s, has become more of a typical rivalry over the last several meetings.

It was the home team who emerged with the 23-14 victory on Friday to improve to 2-0 in District 9-5A-II play. The loss drops Jacksonville to 0-2 in the league.

A roller-coaster season in the punting game continued for the Tribe as a miscued snap sailed over the head of punter Chris Carpenter and out of the endzone for a safety at the 5:19 mark of the first quarter. The Indian offense struggled to answer the early points as the Whitehouse defense keyed on JHS speedster Deshawn McCuin most of the night, not allowing the TCU commit with 4.5-40 speed to get into much space with the football.

The Wildcats found themselves driving with the ball early in the second quarter. Looking to utilize a little speed of their own, the Maroon and White went into their "wildcat" formation with Cameron Cantrell lined up at the quarterback position. The junior, the brother of former Whitehouse and Texas Tech standout Dylan Cantrell, took the direct snap 19 yards to the endzone for the game's first touchdown. The ensuing extra point was no good, leaving the score at 8-0 in favor of the Wildcats with most of the second quarter remaining.

The Indians utilized a steady running game of their own to get right back into the thick of things. Jacksonville deployed two main running backs: junior Aaron Richardson and senior T.J. Ratliffe. Richardson did most of the heavy lifting in the first half, to the tune of 71 yards, to spell Ratliffe who was heavily involved on the defensive side of the ball. It would be the senior, Ratliffe, who found the endzone for the first time, bolting through the line for an eight-yard score with 2:18 to go before the halftime break. Alejandro Pina-Sanchez provided the extra point to pull the Tribe within one point at 8-7.

Not to be outdone by Ratliffe and Richardson's impressive first half showing on the ground, Cantrell would add another tally to widen the Wildcat advantage just before the teams headed into the locker room for halftime. Again lining up out of the wildcat set, Cantrell powered his way in from seven yards out after a steady ball-possession drive for Whitehouse. Having missed the earlier PAT, the Wildcats attempted a two-point conversion run with speedy receiver Kendahl Fry, which was unsuccessful. At the break, the Wildcats led, 14-7.

Fry would return to the scoresheet at the 4:40 mark in the third quarter when he hauled in a 24 yard scoring strike from WHS quarterback Flint Herrington. Again, it was Fry with the two-point try, to no avail. The Wildcats held the 20-7 lead and most of the momentum late in the third.

Jacksonville was not finished, however, as junior quarterback Tristen Shewmake took advantage of a rare opportunity to show off his running ability -- as most defenses the Tribe has faced have shut down that facet of his game. Shewmake's seven-yard touchdown scramble with 2:14 left in the third, plus the Pina-Sanchez conversion, brought the Tribe within a score, but that is as close as they would get for the rest of the night.

The Wildcats would tally the final points of the evening on the right foot of their kicker, Cooper Clemons. His impressive 32-yard field goal made the final score 23-14 in favor of the home team.
The Tribe outgained the 'Cats, 247-233, but two interceptions by the Whitehouse defense, and none by the normally ball-hawking Jacksonville unit, proved a key difference.

The Indians will look to notch their first district victory of 2018 as they entertain the Pine Tree Pirates at Rose Stadium on Friday.

The contest, Jacksonville's last at Rose Stadium for the season, should prove a good test for the Tribe as the Pirates come in at 2-0 in district action.