By Stephen Smoot
All year long, Pendleton County encountered a feast or famine schedule. Most teams who faced the Wildcats either brought significant weaknesses or powerful strengths to the field. The season started with an unfortunately scheduled game against now undefeated and number one ranked James Monroe. James Monroe squeaked by the Wildcats 6-0 on the strength of having played a game while Pendleton County was saddled by an opening week bye.
It ended last Friday with the Wildcats facing Cameron, one of the few teams in single A that could challenge for the title. A team looking ahead to the playoffs took on a Pendleton County squad pitching in 110 percent for pride.
“We hung in there and battled until the final seconds rolled off the clock,” Coach Zac Smith said.
Pendleton County opened the game against the heavily favored Dragons with a gamble, bouncing an onside kick to the Dragon 39 where they recovered the ball, but turned it immediately over on the first play of scrimmage. Vincell’s fumble recovery was followed by a quarterback keeper for five yards and a Chase Owens run of 11. The drive stalled, however, at the Cameron 18 after three incomplete passes.
Cameron relied on a speedy running back and a shifty quarterback to drive their offense. Both brought big play ability to the Dragon offense, but found themselves frustrated at times by Wildcat persistence on both sides of the ball.
On their second possession, however, Cameron showed why no team has defeated them yet this year. Starting at their 18, they took seven running plays to cross the goal line for the first score of the game. Two of the runs went for 23 and 38 yards. The two-point conversion failed, leaving Cameron ahead 6-0.
Pendleton County continued to attack on their next possession. Vincell started the drive at the Wildcat 33. He took a larger role in the offense, running the ball more on quarterback keepers and broken passing plays. The drive used four minutes on the clock, but advanced just past midfield. Cameron stopped an Owens run inches short on fourth and 2 to get the ball back.
The offensive line battled all day and helped the offense to create big plays running and passing. Coach Smith explained that his team relied on the experience of three starting senior linemen, Blake Harris, Lukas Redman, and Adam Ruddle. “Their experience will be missed,” he said.
After getting the ball back at midfield with two minutes left in the first quarter, the Dragons were stopped cold on the first play by Dillon Smith, but then completed an 11-yard pass. An 11-yard run took them to the Wildcat 28, but Justus Kuykendall blew up a run play for almost no gain. Two plays later, a Cameron touchdown pass was wiped off by a penalty and their drive stalled at the 24 with an incomplete pass under immense pressure.
Two possessions later, Cameron took over the ball at their own 35. An 11-yard run followed by a 21-yard run put the ball on the Wildcat 25. A completed pass into the end zone drew a flag, but officials picked it up and allowed the touchdown to stand. Two minutes later, the Dragon defense picked up a fumble and returned it to the end zone to increase the lead to 20-0.
The Wildcat offense fought to claw their way back. Pendleton County took the ball at their own 38 with five minutes left in the half. In the second quarter, Cameron started drawing its safeties closer to the line of scrimmage to counter the power running of Owens. The Wildcats still found running yardage for Vincell and Owens both, assisted by two minor Dragon infractions.
Then on first and five at the Cameron 45, Vincell angled a pass to the left sideline. Connor Armentrout reached over the defender to snag a spectacular catch to give his team a first down at the 17. Three plays later, the quarterback drove the ball in for Pendleton County’s first score.
“Connor stepped up and had a great game, Friday,” Coach Smith stated. “When the ball is in his hands, whether on a kickoff return or a pass play, he runs it downhill. He was a really good player for three or four years and will be dearly missed.”
Armentrout’s “bookend” at receiver, Clayton Kisamore also earned praise. With Coach Smith explaining that “we’ll miss Clayton’s skill and athleticism at wide receiver.”
Cameron tried to nail the game down at the beginning of the third quarter with an onside kick, but the Wildcats recovered at midfield. After three plays, the Wildcats threw an interception that officials negated due to a roughing the passer call. On the very next play Owens exploded through the line and outraced the defense for a 33-yard scoring run, but a missed point after left the score at 20-12.
On the next kick, Cameron took the ball over at their own 34. Three plays later on first down, the Dragons broke open a 40-yard run to the Wildcat seven. Dillon Smith corralled the back for a four-yard loss, but a pass from the 11 gave Cameron another touchdown. Dillon Smith and Armentrout snuffed out the conversion attempt and Cameron led with 7:30 left in the third quarter 26-12.
On the next possession starting at the 20, Owens surged forward for a nine-yard gain, leaping a would be tackler at the line of scrimmage and bulled his way through others to get close to a first down. The Dragons, however, recovered a fumble on the next play. Two plays later and after a holding penalty negated one touchdown pass, they threw in another from the Wildcat 40 to extend the lead to 34-12.
Pendleton County recovered a fumble deep in their own territory with about a minute left in the third quarter. Owens got the first carry afterward and exploded forward for over 50 yards, carrying two tacklers the last several. Set up at the Cameron 28, Vincell hit Armentrout on a timing pattern on the left sideline for 23 yards. Vincell capped the drive with a keeper that went into the end zone.
Another senior who enjoyed a monster year was Terry Harvey, Jr. Coach Smith called him a “powerhouse” and a “big part of our defense.” Even though he missed one game, he will still likely end up the team’s leading tackler.
Coach Smith also praised the hard working Xavier Ellis. Coach Smith said, “he didn’t see a lot of playing time, but he’s been with us for four years.” His effort and support in practice made his contributions valuable to team success.