Sports writer: Brent Cook
November 17, 2021
Whitney to face Mount Vernon Thursday…
If there is a guaranteed game plan to secure a win, it’s keeping the opponent off the scoreboard.
Facing the Groesbeck Goats (8-3) last Friday night at Waco ISD Stadium, that’s exactly what the Whitney Wildcats (6-5) did to claim the bi-district championship and advance to the second round of the 3A-Division 1 playoffs.
The Wildcat defense battered and bruised the touted Groesbeck offense, producing two goal-line stands in the first half to propel the boys in blue to a 14-0 victory. Head Coach Mark Byrd credited his coaching staff for putting a plan in place and the team for its desire to win.
“Getting back to the playoffs was our first goal at hand after missing them last season,” Byrd said. “To add the victory on top of that is another step in the right direction. It’s an expectation and hunger our kids have.”
The win set up a showdown with the No. 3 Mount Vernon Tigers at 7 p.m. this Thursday at the historic Rose Stadium in Tyler. The Tigers have posted an 11-0 record this season, outscoring their opponents 558-160.
Heading into the game, Mount Vernon will be heavily favored, but Byrd noted the Wildcats will be up to the challenge. Whitney has already faced multiple quality teams this season and has proven that its scrappy and speedy defense and well-balanced offense create a recipe to compete with the state’s best teams.
“Facing Mount Vernon will be our sixth top-ranked opponent this season,” Byrd said. “So our kids know the task at hand. They have been prepared and sharpened due to our schedule, and they are used to the big stage. No doubt it is a challenge, but at the end of the day, Mount Vernon has to play us.”
The Wildcats will ride the momentum of a three-game winning streak. Against Groesbeck, the Wildcats executed an impressive defensive strategy that focused on slowing down Groesbeck’s top players at the skill positions.
The defense immediately set the tone forcing a pair of punts in the first quarter, then stuffing the Goats after they pranced to the 10-yard line courtesy of a 44-yard reception.
The teams traded possessions again before Whitney broke the ice at the start of the second. Starting just outside the goal line, Wildcat quarterback Garrett Peacock continued his mission of spreading the ball around and picking apart the Groesbeck defense. Peacock first connected with trusty target Jaxon Montgomery, who had nine catches on the night, for a 20-yard reception and then spotted Kyler Cryns on a short sideline route.
Cyrns grabbed the pass, broke a tackle, and sprinted to a 69-yard score.
The Wildcats remained steadfast, limiting the Goats’ opportunities with collapsing coverage and hard hits. Thanks to a fourth-down smash from linebackers Jordan Newton and Teagan Winkler, Whitney produced its second goal line stand near the end of the half and took a 7-0 lead into the locker room.
“I felt like we left 14 points on the board offensively and possibly two more turnovers on the field defensively,” Byrd said. “In the playoffs, we need to learn to not let those possessions pass us by.”
Groesbeck was up to receive the second half kick, but once again, Whitney opted for a short pooch to eliminate the chance for the Goats to get going.
The Goats were then handed an unfortunate blow as the Wildcats’ Dalton Wooten contained their offense-leading quarterback Allen Lewis. Newton came flying in to close out the play and heads collided. The officials ruled head-to-head contact, which resulted in Newton being disqualified and Lewis never returning to field for the Goats.
Whitney seized the opportunity to apply pressure and force a back-up quarterback to miss targets. Senior Orrin Green grabbed two consecutive interceptions and the defense went on its way to hold Groesbeck to under 300 yards.
Meanwhile, the offense went into ball-control mode with Peacock and Wooten grinding out yardage on the ground. Wooten finished with 7 carries for 45 yards, while Peacock pitched in 14 attempts for 52 yards. Peacock also completed 19 of 27 passes for 247 yards.
With Groesbeck still within striking distance to start the final frame, Byrd reached into his bag of tricks and called a reverse pass where sophomore Jairdyn Anderson connected with Peacock for a touchdown. Up 14-0, Whitney coasted through the final minutes and into the second round of the playoffs.