Warriors beat Mineral County in 20T thriller, remain unbeaten
HAWTHORNE, Nev. — The Whittell football team won a thriller Friday night to continue its undefeated start to the 2014 season. Whittell beat Mineral County 56-50 in double overtime, securing its eighth consecutive victory with a goal-line stand — the Warriors erased a 22-point second half deficit to tie the Serpents and force the extra periods.
“This was one of those games where kids have the opportunity to find out just what kind of player they really are,” Warriors head coach Phil Bryant said. “I don’t think anyone, anywhere would have thought Whittell football would be 8-0 at this point.”
Whittell (8-0, 4-0 IV West) took an early lead, but found itself trailing at halftime for the first time this season. Mineral County (5-2, 3-2) scored twice in the last three minutes of the first half to take a 36-22 lead into the break.
“During halftime we stayed calm and discussed what we needed to do to get back in the game,” Bryant said. “We needed some stops and we needed some key players to make plays ¬— they didn’t panic and they got just what we needed.”
After halftime, the Warriors scored three times and held the Serpents to eight points to force overtime — Whittell trailed 44-22 before scoring 22 unanswered to end regulation. Defensive coordinator Doug Patton’s group cut down on its missed tackles, recorded four sacks and kept pressure on Mineral County’s offense in the third and fourth quarters.
In overtime, Whittell got the ball first and scored on a 6-yard run from running back Max Primo — but came up short on the two-point conversion attempt. Mineral County answered with a touchdown — then couldn’t convert a potential game-winning two-point attempt.
In the second overtime period, Whittell retook the lead with a 10-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Colin Buchholz to receiver Dismas Womack — and had a six-point lead after a failed two-point conversion attempt. Mineral County had first-and-goal on the next drive, but the Warriors’ defense delivered a stop to secure the victory — on fourth down, five Whittell defenders stopped a Serpents’ ball carrier 4 yards short of the end zone.
“This was a team win in every aspect. We recognize that there are some players who don’t get on the field very much but their contribution in practice makes us better — we couldn’t be where we are without the guys who push the starters,” Bryant said. “They never get their name in the paper but they are there everyday and working just as hard as those in front of them.”
Buchholz didn’t have his top performance Friday, but still finished with 236 yards, five touchdowns and an interception on 14-of-26 passing. The interception was only the junior’s third of the season — and first in five games.
“He was just off target a little in the first half but settled down nicely and made the clutch throws we needed,” Bryant said. “I have to remember that this is his first year as a quarterback and he has steadily improved.”
Womack had six catches for 156 yards and three touchdowns in the win — running back Jake Sharp and tight end Bryce Bronken also hauled in passes for scores. On the ground, Primo led the way with 123 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries — the senior saw an increase in touches against Mineral County.
“Max hasn’t had many carries this year as he has had to sharpen his game as a blocker and receiver — I felt his speed could be a real factor as Mineral County got tired late in the game,” Bryant said. “They were tough yards and he ran hard.”
Running back Corey Huber also topped the century mark, running for 105 yards on 11 carries. Sharp rushed for 49 yards on eight carries to go along with five receptions for 52 yards.
Defensively, Bryant said a number of Whittell players had their best performances of the year Friday night. Defensive back Kai Mangiaracina finished with 11 tackles, six assists and a sack.
“He is one of the hardest workers I have ever coached,” Bryant said of Mangiaracina.
Lineman Quinn Kixmiller and linebacker Sean Noyes each had eight tackles and five assists against Mineral County — freshman defensive end Caleb Moretti finished with seven tackles, four assists and a sack. Despite allowing more points to the Serpents than it had in its four previous games combined, Bryant said Whittell’s defense has continuously improved throughout the season.
“That may not make sense when we just gave up 50 points, but on six of their scores we had the runner short of the goal line and just didn’t finish the job,” Byrant said. “We will work on finishing our tackles this week to avoid that problem.”
Whittell has won eight straight games to start the 2014 season, more wins than the program had in the previous three seasons combined. For the third time this season, the Warriors were selected as a Homecoming opponent — and again spoiled the occasion.
“I think everyone thought it would be an automatic win based on last year’s record — but this is not the same team that won only one game last year,” Bryant said. “They have worked hard to be where they are and the conditioning has been tough.
“My approach to preparation and execution is simple — teach them what we need done and let them do their job. There is tremendous trust between the coaches and the players.”
With the victory, Whittell remains tied atop the league standings with Virginia City (6-1, 4-0). The two teams are on a collision course for the league title, and will meet Oct. 30 at Whittell in a game that will likely be winner-take-all for the championship.
“I set our goals high at the start of the season and they have responded,” Bryant said. “It is now important to remember how we got this far and keep the same approach through our last two games of the season.”
Whittell hosts its annual Homecoming game Thursday night against Excel Christian at 6 p.m. The Warriors won the previous meeting between the two teams 38-14 on Sept. 6.
“I can’t say enough good things about these guys,” Bryant said. “They are having fun, they are competing and they do everything I ask of them.”