With possible playoff spots on the line, the Whitewater Wildcats broke open a close game late in the third quarter and held off a furious late rally by the Starr’s Mill Panthers to secure a 38-35 home victory.
Both teams went into the game with the possibility of finishing anywhere from second to fifth in their half of Region 4-AAAAA, meaning either team could host a play-in game next week for a state playoff spot, go on the road for a play-in game, or simply close out the season against one of the bottom teams in the other subregion.
With the win, Whitewater (6-3, 2-2) finishes third in the subregion behind Creekside and McIntosh. Starr’s Mill (3-6, 1-3) comes in fifth, behind Northgate.
After a scoreless first quarter, Whitewater got on the board with 7:59 left in the second when Jay Ashley hooked up with Josh Alexander for 43-yard touchdown pass. The play capped off a 93-yard drive after a Starr’s Mill punt.
The Panthers answered by marching right back down the field to even the score. Kyle Moseley took the snap at the Wildcats’ 23 and tossed a pass to Patrick Mullins, who sprinted down the left sideline and made it into the corner of the end zone to make it a 6-6 game.
Whitewater moved the ball on its next possession, and when the drive stalled in the red zone Ken Allen hammered home a 31-yard field goal. But after returning the kickoff nearly to midfield, Starr’s Mill ran the two-minute drill to perfection. Moseley found Mullins open over the middle for another 23-yard score with 16 seconds left, and the Panthers led 13-9 at intermission.
The Wildcats needed only two minutes to score at the start of the second half. The final play of the drive was Christian Wafford’s 35-yard touchdown run, and Ashley hit Matt Ogle for the two-point conversion.
Whitewater’s Kyle Duggar stepped in front of a Starr’s Mill pass on the next possession and returned it 44 yards to paydirt, but a penalty nullified the touchdown. The Wildcats kept the ball, however, with great field position at the Panthers’ 28. But the visitors rose up and stopped the Whitewater offense on fourth down to get the ball back.
Aided by a roughing-the-kicker penalty on their punter, the Panthers moved the ball into Whitewater territory. On third-and-5, John Smith broke several tackles and rumbled 37 yards for a score to put Starr’s Mill back in front.
But a huge momentum shift was only seconds away. Ashley hit Jonathan Womack on a 53-yard bomb to the Panthers’ 11, and Wafford burst up the middle for a score on the next play. The ensuing kickoff was fumbled, and Whitewater’s Sam Stover recovered it at the Starr’s Mill 26. The first-down handoff went to Wafford once again, and he scored to give the Wildcats a 31-20 lead.
Wafford scored his fourth touchdown of the night on the next Whitewater possession, running in from 4 yards out. A 24-yard pass completion from Ashley to Avery Roth set up the scoring play.
Starr’s Mill was able to move into scoring position with the help of three huge penalties, and Smith ran 28 yards for a score on a screen pass. Mullins caught a pass for the two-point conversion, cutting the lead to 10 with 4:55 to play.
The Panthers recovered the onside kick at midfield, and Moseley completed two big passes to move the ball to the 3. Smith scored on a third-down run to make it a three-point margin, but the next onside kick stayed in the Wildcats’ hands, and Whitewater picked up two first downs to run out the clock.