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NEW CASTLE – Trailing host Henry County, 20-7, late in the third quarter, it was gut-check time for the Shelby County football team Friday night.
The Rockets’ response came from an organ a little bit higher in the anatomy, though.
“In the second half, the difference was heart,” said senior quarterback Dalton Thompson, whose 1-yard touchdown run with 19.7 seconds remaining capped Shelby County’s comeback – the Rockets outscored the Wildcats, 20-0, during the final 15 minutes and 33 seconds – for a 27-20 victory in the season-opener for both, the Border Bowl.
Shelby County, coming off a 9-3 season but dealing with heavy graduation losses, came in overconfident – according to senior defensive lineman Jalyn Perry – against a team it shut out, 21-0, last year and beat, 35-13, in 2011.
“In the first half we came out thinking we were going to win right away,” he said.
The Rockets, however, trailed, 14-0, midway through the second quarter and at halftime, 20-7.
Mason Fish’s 63-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage put Henry County on top 7-0. Shelby County tried to answer on its first possession, but freshman Josh Edwards missed a 29-yard field goal attempt. He’d make up for it later, though.
The Wildcats increased their lead to two touchdowns near the halfway point of the second period when Austin Hartsell scored on an 8-yard run on fourth-and-2.
On the Rockets ensuing possession, they faked out Henry County for their first TD. Facing fourth-and-1 from its own 40 Shelby County pulled off a fake punt to perfection as sophomore Malik Manica sprinted for a 60-yard touchdown with 3:55 remaining in the first half. That turned out to be 1 second too much.
The Wildcats quickly moved down the field and increased their lead on Hartsell’s 1-yard TD plunge on the final play of the first half. The PAT failed, but Henry County still had a 13-point lead.
Shipley said his message to his squad at intermission was a simple one.
“Do your job and do it better than them. That’s it,” he recalled telling his team.
The message from the seniors to their younger teammates was equally as simple but much more blunt.
“We told them, if they didn’t want to play, don’t go back out there,” said Perry, one of the team’s four captains.
Added sophomore wide receiver/defensive back/punter and Jalyn’s younger brother, Michael Perry: “In the first half we weren’t playing for Shelby County, we were playing for ourselves.”
The Rockets fumbled – their third of the game – on their first possession of the second half, but their defense came up big, stopping the Wildcats on fourth-and-1 from Shelby’s 25.
It was a sign of things to come for the Rockets, who gave up 183 yards of offense in the first half but only 48 in the second (and 32 of those came on Henry County’s final play of the game).
“The first half they just wanted it more than us,” said Manica, who had three tackles. “[In the second half] we were communicating, picking each other up. Everybody was playing together.”
Shelby still trailed by 13, though, late in the third quarter before Perry’s 42-yard punt pinned the Wildcats at their own 1. It helped turn around the game.
On the ensuing play Shelby County – led by Jalyn Perry and fellow quad-captain Quentin Holmes – gang-tackled Hartsell in the end zone for a safety, making it 20-9.
The Rockets continued to cut into their deficit on Edwards’ 27-yard field goal with 9:01 to play. Shelby’s D then forced the Wildcats to go three-and-out on their next possession before its O tied the score.
Thompson’s 51-yard pass to Earl Stoudemire set up his 3-yard TD run with 5:02 to play. Manica’s 2-point conversion run knotted it at 21.
The Rockets forced Henry County to punt again before embarking on the game-winning drive.
Taking over on his team’s 19 with 3:23 to play, Thompson connected with Britton Woolwine for a short gain and after an incompletion, hooked up with Michael Perry for 19 yards.
After another incompletion, Thompson ran for 2 yards and fullback Tanner Bryant for 4, leaving a fourth-and-4 at the 50. That’s when the Rockets punt-faked out the Wildcats once again. This time Perry took the snap and lofted a soft pass over the middle to Manica, who caught the ball in stride and took it to Henry’s 6.
“Special teams was pretty big tonight,” Shipley said with a smile afterward.
Three plays later Thompson, with help from his offensive line, pushed the ball into the end zone.
“We just outpowered them,” Thompson said. “We’re bigger than them, we said, ‘Let’s out-physical them and get the ball in the end zone.’”
Said Shipley afterward: “Gosh dang it, boys, you stepped up and played with a lot of character, I’m very proud of you.”
In his first game as Shelby County’s starting quarterback Thompson rushed for 107 yards and two touchdowns and completed 13 of 24 passes for 219 yards. Manica rushed for 62 yards (60 coming on that first fake punt) and had one catch for 44 yards (the second fake). Perry finished with five catches for 60 yards.
“I think we came together a lot tonight,” Jalyn Perry said.
Added Michael Perry: “We just played our hearts out.”
Shelby County hosts Spencer County at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Robert Doyle Stadium.
Shelby County 27, Henry County 20
At New Castle
Shelby County 0 7 2 18 – 27
Henry County 7 13 0 0 – 20
HC – Mason Fish 63-yard run (Jacob Buckley kick), 11:57. HC – Austin Hartsell 8-yard run (Buckley kick), 6:49; SC – Malik Manica 60-yard run (Josh Edwards kick), 3:55; HC – Hartsell 7-yard run (kick failed), :06. SC – Kenneth Huckleberry tackled in the end zone, 3:33. SC – Edwards 27-yard field goal, 9:01; SC – Dalton Thompson 3-yard run (Manica run), 5:02; SC – Thompson 1-yard run (Edwards kick), 0:19.7.
First downs 13 10
Rushes-yards 33-190 36-156
Pass comp-att-int 13-24-0 3-7-0
Passing yards 219 75
Total offense 409 231
Fumbles-lost 3-3 0-0
Punts-avg 4-43.5 7-35.1
Penalties-yards 7-65 7-52
Possession time 23:24 24:36
Rushing – SC: Dalton Thompson 22-107, Tanner Bryant 4-10, Earl Stoudemire 3-7, Malik Manica 2-62, Tyus Ford 2-4. HC: Mason Fish 12-103, Kenneth Huckleberry 10-10, Austin Hartsell 7-14, Bodie Clark 3-15, Devin Hagan 2-5, Ethan Tuggle 1-5, Brennen Penniston 1-4.
Passing – SC: Thompson 13-24-0 219. HC: Huckleberry 3-7-0 75.
Receiving – SC: Michael Perry 5-60, Britton Woolwine 4-51, Stoudemire 2-55, Manica 1-44, Ford 1-9. HC: Tuggle 2-61, Gavin Black 1-14.
Tackling – SC: Nick Waurio 9, Perry 7, Mikah Mattingly 4, Greg Abarientos 4.