‘Cardiac Cats’ slay Bears on final play to seize second place


HHS (6-3; 2-1 M6) surged out of a three-way tie into second place alone with two games to go, in the six-team M6 pack that unbeaten Franklin leads. The team ending in second definitely makes playoffs, and might host a first-round game. Pisgah (5-4; 1-2) falls into a four-way deadlock for third place, which could also earn postseason play.

This Friday marks a be-Deviling showdown ahead of Halloween, as Brevard Blue Devils (6-3; 1-2) come to Five Points. BHS lost to Smoky Mountain (4-5; 1-2) Friday. HHS closes at East Henderson (3-6 ; 1-2 M6). East lost 42-0, at Franklin (9-0; 3-0). Franklin plays at Pisgah Friday.

The Bear Bowl in the new HHS-PHS rivalry was tied at 29, with two seconds left in regulation. A 33-yard Bear field goal attempt by Justin Francis was blocked mostly by Cole McMurray and partly by Tykel Landrum. The football bounced right by the kicker, as time expired.

Kalin Ensley of HHS quickly grabbed the ball. Ensley had also charged in and leaped, to try to block the punt. While mid-air “he spun around,” HHS head coach Jim Sosebee noted. “The ball bounced right into this chest. He took off.” Ensley sprinted 67 yards untouched, for the winning score.

Had Ensley not reached the end zone, the game would have gone to overtime possessions. Instead, he clinched one of the most memorable “Cardiac Cat” finishes in Bearcat football history.

“It was crazy!” Sosebee said of the special-teams winning TD. “I’m super proud of them. They kept fighting. Their effort showed through, in the end.”

Landrum said “it felt good” to pull out victory, after facing defeat. “It was exciting in the end, but also very scary up to then. They could have won off of a field goal.” He said of the returned field goal block, “We never expected to win like that. You see that only in college football and the pros.”

Ensley sparkled. The athletic 6-5, 195 junior combined with senior quarterback Bud Williford, for a 93-yard pass play to open scoring. Ensley ran for 53 of the 93 yards. He swatted down a defender after the catch at his 47, to break free and down the left side. He made several “wildcat” QB runs. He returned the second half kickoff 59 yards. That ignited an HHS drive that concluded with Ty’rese Hunt rumbling 10 yards, then for a two-pointer to knot the game at 22.


Tykel Landrum breaks Zeke Long’s tackle, to score on a 22-yard scamper. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

After PHS retook the lead, HHS tied it again inside the final minute. Ensley had an open-field gem after the catch, for a 31-yard score. Tanner Gilliam‘s extra point tied it at 29.

Ensley was a frequent passing target, with the Bears converging on Shrine Bowl selectee Landrum all night. Landrum said of continually getting double-teamed, “we welcome teams to do that” to give more room for receivers Ensley, Nasir Artis and Justin Starnes.

Landrum still scored in this one — on a run on a broken pass, not a pass. He zig-zagged 22 yards, for an early 14-0 lead. HHS also improvised on that dynamic scoring play. With a high snap, the ball was bobbled by Williford as players scrambled about. “The ball bounced right back up to Buddy” in the direction he rotated to, “Landrum said. “He flipped it to me,” with a very quick and brief toss. “I just took off with the ball.” Landrum cut left, then sharply right and broke a tackle to reach daylight.

He added, “it was kinda shocking. We had to bounce back from a mistake, and make a good play.” He said Sosebee urged “us to stop making mistakes, that keep games close.” PHS made four picks — three to squelch successive HHS drives nearing the red zone.

Landrum said “it feels so good, to start a winning streak after two big losses” to playoff rival Heritage then to Franklin to start M6 play. HHS then won 51-45 at Smoky, and now over Pisgah.

East shocked Pisgah 27-22 two weeks ago. That made the Bears’ game at HHS virtually must-win, for them to finish in the top two. If they looked past East to HHS, the Bears initially did not play hungrily.

But the Bears pepped up, and grabbed momentum. After HHS scored both TDs of the first quarter, Coach Brett Chappell’s crew got the next three TDs in just over a half-quarter. A recovered fumble at the HHS 32 set up the Bears’ third TD. Burly Bear Rome Henson smashed in for the TD, then for two points. PHS led 22-14 at halftime, but struggled to move the ball in the second half.

Junior QB Tanner Wike’s fiery play sparked Pisgah. The wounded Bear limped at first, after getting crunched on a late hit out of bounds in the second quarter. But he kept playing, and lifted his effort. He came to life again after getting illegally slammed down late in the contest.

Quick Wike made several gutty runs out of the spread, such as four in his final-minute drill. Pisgah drove 64 yards in seven plays in merely 42 seconds, to set up the field goal try to win it. Earlier, Wike dashed 50 yards up the gut for the second PHS score. He threw to Justin Davis for Pisgah’s first TD. Henson ran for two PHS scores, including its final one.

Haywood County split its two big road games here. Tuscola (6-3; 4-2 WMC) ran to a 28-0 first-quarter lead, and won 41-20 at West Henderson (6-3; 4-2). This thwarts West’s hopes to finish as high as second, in its strong inaugural WMC season. North Henderson (2-7; 0-6) searches for its first WMC win, after falling 50-0 at Roberson.

This Friday, East welcomes Smoky at 7:30 p.m. North hosts Erwin (4-4; 4-2), at 7 p.m. West faces the Death March to Reynolds (8-1; 6-0) before hosting Asheville (5-4; 5-1).

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