Houston’s C.J. Blackfan finds a hole in Bartlett’s defense and scores a touchdown. Blackfan scored two touchdowns in the third quarter and had 69 yards in the game on 18 carries. Houston picked up their first win of the season and now must prepare to host Whitehaven this Friday at 7 p.m. Whitehaven is coming off of a 37-0 win over Germantown. Photo by Theron Malone
Directing the Mustangs’ spread offense, Garrett Bates is taking over for all-state quarterback Jared Schmidt, who is a freshman at Southern Illinois and playing baseball. Bates had 236 passing yards Friday against Bartlett and completed 55 percent of his 18 passes. Photo by Bill Sorrell
By Bill Sorrell
What do you tell your football team that fumbles a potential game-tying touchdown on the 6-yard line, has a touchdown nullified because of an illegal formation and gives up a 65-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the game?
“We talked about the fact it should have been a 21-20 game or 21-21 if we got into score when the tackle lined up in the backfield and we fumbled on the 1-yard line,” said Bartlett coach Jeff McFerran of his halftime message to his team that trailed Houston 21-6 at halftime.
“They felt like we were in the game, we would climb out.”
What do you tell your football team that was on a five-game losing streak, including 0-4 this season, after winning 10 games in 2014?
“They are learning that it is their job. There are not guys ahead of them to look to get things done. It is their turn. It would be easy for them to lay down when we are 0-4 and not had a lot of success on either side of the ball. They come out every day with a lunch-pail attitude and gotten after it,” said Houston Coach Will Hudgens.
Winning their first game this season, the Mustangs got after it on Friday, defeating the Panthers 38-6 in a Region 4-6A game in Bartlett.
Houston wide receiver Chanse Pullen caught three touchdown passes, his most this season, from junior quarterback Garrett Bates.
On the first play from scrimmage Bates threw a 65-yard touchdown pass to Pullen and nine seconds into the game, Houston led 7-0.
Houston junior running back Carson Blackfan ran for two touchdowns including the Mustangs’ first rushing touchdown this year and the defense recovered a Bartlett fumble at Panther 33-yard line on the first series of the third quarter that led to a touchdown and a 28-6 lead.
“That is when the air came out of us,” said McFerran. “It was the mental part that wheels were kind of rattling. We haven’t had success after success and we don’t play with great confidence as things come undone for us. That is one of those things we have to overcome. Life is not easy. You are going to have a lot of ups and downs and you are going to have to push through. I love my kids and they are trying.”
After losing to Ridgeway, Henry County, Germantown and CBHS, one of the state’s most challenging schedules, winning “feels great,” said Hudgens.
“From a confidence stand point for our young guys to get a win under their belt was huge,” the coach said. “At the end of the day, it was one game. We have to come back to work on Monday and get ready for a really, really good Whitehaven team. (The Mustangs host Whitehaven at 7 p.m. this Friday). We have our hands full.
“Our guys kept their composure,” he continued. “We have shot ourselves in the foot the first four games. Playing the teams that we did was really good for us. It put us in some sticky situations and we made mistakes but we learned and we corrected them and got better.
“We can build off this. We were not perfect by any means tonight. We had a lot of mental mistakes, a lot of things that are going to bite us in the butt in tough games; we have got to go back and correct.”
Bates, who was injured his freshman and sophomore seasons, directed Houston to 377 yards offense. Bates completed 10-of-18 passes for 236 yards. Blackfan rushed for 74 yards on 18 carries while Jamal Cox rushed for 53 yards on seven carries.
Bartlett sophomore quarterback J.J. Vaden, who sat out the Oakhaven game the week before because of an injury, completed 9 of 18 passes for 77 yards and threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to LaMarcus Young for the Panthers touchdown that had pulled them to within 7-6 with 3:16 left in the first quarter.
Young, who led Bartlett rushers with 76 yards on 21 carries, got all but three of the Panthers’ 79 rushing yards.
It was the 4-3 Houston defense that got three interceptions, one each by Kelei Harris, Cox, Shane Ptacek, that helped win the game despite Bartlett having 36 minutes possession and Houston 12.
“The defense played outstanding up front,” said Hudgens. “I take my hat off to those guys. R.J. Myers, Ashton Newsome, Webb Piper, Bruce Brown, all those D-linemen did a tremendous job winning the battle up front and stopped their really good rushing attack.”
The Panthers used runs by Young to advance from the Houston 19 yard line after Houston was going to punt on fourth down and 21. However the snap sailed into the end zone.
Young had five runs to the 6-yard line before he fumbled and the Mustangs recovered at the 1-yard line.
“I couldn’t believe it at first but I couldn’t do anything about it. Coaches told me to turn the page from that. We made a lot of mistakes and they capitalized on them. They are a disciplined team,” said Young.
Blackfan said the fumble recovery was huge. “We kept our momentum going into the next possession.”
Houston took a 14-6 lead when Vaden was intercepted by Ptacek who ran from his 22-yard line to the Bartlett 42. Bates then threw a pass to Pullen who scored, completing a 42-yard play. Emanuel Chi kicked the PAT with 6:57 left in the second quarter.
Pullen caught six-of-six pass attempts for 165 yards, averaging 27.5 yards per catch.
“Chanse Pullen, I can’t say enough about him,” said Hudgens. “He is a senior and he has come a long way. He has really matured and he works and it is paying off for him.”
Pullen said, “It feels good to know that the coaches trust me and they rely on me to come out and to make plays. I thank my offensive line and then my quarterback to be comfortable in the pocket and then I thank my wide receivers coach (Maurice Jones) for preparing me mentally and physically every week. Without him, I could not be the player that I am. I have to have the confidence to go out there and believe that nobody can hold me.
“It all started with the offensive line. They came out there with aggression and really engaged. They helped the running game. Once the running game got going it opened up the passing. Whenever I feel like it is going to be a tough game, I know that we can win. We are going to have to come out and execute with no mental mistakes. I feel like we came out from the gates prepared. I know that we had this monkey on our back about winning our first game. I feel like tonight we came out determined and we ended up getting the w.”
Bates’ rising confidence is building chemistry with Pullen said Hudgens. “That is good to help our run game, It is going to help those young linemen up front to be able to open some gaps for our running backs. C.J. (Blackfan) did tremendous. It was good for him to get that touchdown under his belt.”
Blackfan said, “It basically came down to our offensive line opening up the little creases I had to run through. Hopefully we will be able to run the ball and get more rushing touchdowns next week. I guess in close games, we rely on the pass a little bit that is where he (Pullen) comes in. He is one of our big play makers. When we are able to work the pass and run game, we can be unstoppable.”
Cox contributed to the rushing yardage. “He did a great job running the ball. A lot of young guys got some good reps. The first running touchdown is another confidence builder for our offensive line. It was an all-around great team effort. Special teams were really solid. I think we found a pretty good little kicker in Emanuel,” said Hudgens.
Chi, a sophomore, kicked four extra points and a 33-yard field goal that gave Houston a 38-6 lead in the third quarter.
The Mustangs (1-1 in region) flipped field position on the Panthers (3-2, 0-2 in region) in the second half.
“We got an early turnover on the first possession. I think it was the first snap and that really ignited our offense a little bit and gave us a short field to work with,” said Hudgens. “We were able to punch it in and get that ball rolling.”
A 32-yard pass completion from Bates to Pullen moved the Mustangs from the 32-yard line to the Bartlett 17. A 28-yard pass play to Emmitt Whitaker, who had five receptions for 80 yards, got Houston to the 2-yard line. Blackfan scored with 9:47 left in the third for the 28-6 lead.
A game-changer said McFerran was his defense allowing Houston to convert seven of 13 third downs. The Panthers converted one of 10 third downs.
“How many times are we going to have someone third and 20 or more and let them get a first down? That is devastating. There may have been five tonight. You can’t have them third and 20s, second and 18 over and over again. We let them out of a bunch of holes, five to 10 times. That is the difference in the game defensively and offensively, it is about taking care of the football,” said McFerran.
The Panthers were not surprised that on the first play of the game Bates went deep.
“They didn’t do anything we were shocked by. I wasn’t surprised that Will came out and tried to go deep on the first play. We even talked about it all week that they are probably going to try to go big early on us and sure enough they did. We have been talking to them about what to do in coverage. We settled down after that and played pretty solid. They didn’t do anything shocking. They stick to who they are and did what they are going to do.”
The Panthers have two seniors—Justin Ammons and DaVonte Stigler—on defense.
“We are young. We play that way at times, really good and all of a sudden we play down defensively. Offensively I am not shocked by anything that we are doing right now,” said McFerran. “We have got a quarterback at the helm who is young. We are not very deep at any position so any injury really changes anything for us. We are down a lineman, a starter. We have got a weak link. They exposed some of that and did a good job of figuring that out. It was a tough night. We are who we are. It is not going to get any easier. We are fixing to see White Station (this Friday at 7 p.m. at the Fairgrounds), Germantown, Whitehaven.”
The Panthers then play Arlington and Collierville.
McFerran was pleased with the play of Seth Allen at noseguard. “Seth Allen played a great game. I think he had the best game of his year so far. That is probably what I am most pleased with, that he really stepped it up. I thought our linebackers did OK but all in all they came to third and longs and offensively turning it over.”
A 5-10, 230-pound junior linebacker, Allen had a team-high seven tackles including 13.5 yards for loss and a sack of seven yards. Stigler had five tackles. Justus Gaines had two tackles for a loss of 27 yards.
Vaden was injured in the Cordova game on Sept. 4. McFerran said that he struggled against Houston.
“He plays like a sophomore quarterback. It was a tough night for him offensively. How he goes is how we go. He is still our guy and we will keep working with him,” said McFerran.
Vaden said, “I didn’t make my right reads. We moved the ball down the field a lot; just little things, not lining up right, fumbles on my part. You have got to capitalize on your drives.
“Our defense was making good stops,” he continued. “No matter how bad we are down, just keep fighting. Keep our character up. Keep our pride. The more we let it affect us the worse we are going to have to come together and keep fighting. What happened, you can’t take it back. It’s done. It is over.
“We are going to get better,” he concluded. “We are going to regroup.”
Bartlett would have scored its second touchdown with 35 seconds left in the second quarter. Vaden led a 65-yard drive and threw a 22-yard apparent touchdown pass to Marquavius Weaver. The illegal formation penalty cost the Panthers the scored. Weaver did finish with 37 yards on five receptions.
In the first quarter, Vaden had pass completions of 12 and 14 yards to Young before Young caught the 29-yard touchdown pass. Brian Cannon missed the PAT.
On Houston’s drive that expanded the lead to 14-6, Bates threw a 20-yard pass to Blackfan.
Houston recovered a Vaden fumble on the Houston 36-yard line and then drove 64 yards for a 21-6 lead when Bates threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Pullen.
Blackfan scored from the 2 for a 28-6 lead and another two-yard touchdown run by Blackfan gave Houston a 35-6 lead with 6:45 left in the third quarter. Houston’s last touchdown came when Cox intercepted Vaden to put the Mustangs on the 10-yard line.
Directing the Mustangs’ spread offense, Bates is taking over for all-state quarterback Jared Schmidt, who is a freshman at Southern Illinois and playing baseball.
“He was a great football player and a great leader but we are also looking for guys that want to be in that leadership role. He is missed on the field but in the locker room he was a great character guy,” said Hudgens.
Hudgens is looking for Blackfan, Pullen, Bates, Nick Larkin (who was injured and did not play), Davis Jacobs (offensive lineman), Hardy Anderton (tight end who is “probably our most physical guy said Hudgens), Whitaker (wide receiver), Zach Childress (linebacker), Myers, Kennedy Sanders (defensive back), Sam Meagher (offensive lineman) to lead the Mustangs.
Assured of the playoffs because all 32 6-A teams in the state are in, Hudgens said that his goal is for Houston to be playing its best football in week 10.
“We can only take it one game at a time,” he said. “That is our process right now, one play, one quarter, one game, one day.
“Nick Saban (Alabama head coach) says it best. You don’t look at the scoreboard, it is a process and it is each play,” Hudgens continued. “I just try to keep our guys hustling and getting after it every play regardless of what is going on and they have been doing really well.”
Young he said that he will rely on his faith.
“Keep God first that is how I get over it (loss). We will work even harder day by day,” he said. “I want to run harder. I feel like if I hit the hole harder, instead of trying to make a lot of moves to fight for yardage, keep going downhill. I am not a big back at all but some things have got to change.”
Said McFerran, “All I can do is coach them up. They are young kids. They have got to choose to fight through adversity.”