Late Warhill field goal kicks New Kent out of playoffs
After starting the season 4-2, New Kent had dropped their last three games. However, a glimmer of hope still remained as the Trojans still had an opportunity to earn a playoff berth with a win and additional help.
But a field goal by Warhill kicker Fletcher Whalen from 25 yards out sealed New Kent’s fate as the visiting Lions escaped with a 30-28 victory to ruin the Nov. 3 Senior Night festivities.
Warhill utilized the ground game on its opening drive. Running back Armond Fannin raced 36 yards down the sideline. His run set up Alex Minter’s 10-yard scamper for a score and 7-0 lead. Fannin’s next big run of 65 yards on the subsequent drive led to a Whalen field goal and a double digit lead for the Lions (10-0).
On New Kent’s next possession, quarterback Ryan Curle received a blindside hit and fumbled the ball, resulting in a recovery by Warhill’s Noah Holmes. On the next play, Fannin scampered 41 yards into the end zone and another Lion score, bestowing a 17-0 advantage for the visitors.
New Kent cracked the scoreboard on the next drive with running back Evan Branch finding daylight for a 40-yard touchdown run (17-7). After halting Warhill on the next series, New Kent had an opportunity to cut the lead even more. But a pass from Curle to wide receiver Slater Gammon hit the ground in the end zone, thwarting moment.
The Lions continued to focus on the run game, moving the ball down the field 72 yards in the final 3:20 of the first half. Fannin plunged again in the end zone from four yards out, helping the visitors take a 24-7 advantage into the halftime break.
New Kent reversed their effort of play in the second half. Branch, now at defensive back, intercepted Lion quarterback Jamin Hazelaar. On the next play, Curle and Gammon connected on a 30-yard pass to put the hosts inside 10-yard line. Curle used a bootleg to cause misdirection on the next play to stroll into the end zone from eight yards out to reduce the deficit to 10 (24-14).
After another Whalen field goal increased Warhill’s advantage, Branch emerged in the running game for the hosts. Breaking out a tackle, the junior back scored from 58 yards out to make the game a one score contest (27-21) heading into the final quarter.
Warhill attempted to milk the clock in the fourth, but a crucial fumble by Fannin at the Trojans 42-yard line resulted in a recovery by New Kent senior lineman Dean Powell. With four minutes left to go, New Kent tied the game as Branch dashed the entire 42 yards for the score. Adam Caldwell’s placement gave New Kent its first lead of the night with 3:35 remaining in the game (28-27).
But mental mistakes by the hosts haunted them in the final moments in the game. On the ensuing kickoff, a personal foul by the Trojans resulted in Warhill having the ball on New Kent’s 43-yard line. New Kent held steady to force fourth down for the visitors.
With 13 seconds remaining and the ball placed on the 23-yard line, Whalen lined up for a 30-yard attempt and the lead. An antsy New Kent line was flagged for jumping offsides, reducing the distance to 25 yards. Whalen calmly converted the field goal to return the lead to Warhill (30-28). New Kent could not score in the remaining time as the Lions escaped in the thrilling contest.
After the contest, New Kent head coach Clark Harrell said teams injuries forced a change in philosophy in the approach to the contest.
“We had to open things up tonight,” he said. “We dropped at least eight balls [in the passing game] including that touchdown. If we had scored that touchdown, it would have forced them to score a touchdown [on the final drive].”
Harrell, however, complimented the effort on the defensive side of the ball.
“We did better on the defensive end in the second half switching to the 5-3,” he said. “We had some missed opportunities but we played as hard as we could tonight. I can’t ask for any more than that.”
Branch carried 18 times for 195 yards and three touchdowns for New Kent, who ends the season at 4-6. Curle completed 10 passes for 111 yards, with Gammon the recipient of three of them for 66 yards.
Fannin led all rushers in the game with 267 yards on 14 carries and two touchdowns.