GROVE CITY – The fast-break football offense of Grove City High met its counterpoint during Friday night’s Region 3 showdown: The full-court pressure applied by Hickory’s Michael Henwood and Ramarion Whitehead.
Henwood and Whitehead collaborated 7 times for 172 yards, including a 63-yard scoring strike as Hickory harvested a 28-7 win at Forker Field.
While Whitehead was having his way stretching the field, Henwood also hit Matty Cannone for a 61-yard, 1st-frame TD – part of Henwood’s 15-for-28, 303-yard passing performance.
Unofficially, Henwood has thrown for 1,103 yards in only 4 games for Hickory (4-0 region, 4-0 overall), including back-to-back 300-yard outings.
“Michael Henwood? Really good kid. We talk a lot,” Whitehead began. “Good quarterback. He puts the ball on the money. Never panics. He’s a good quarterback. ... He makes the call. When he needs me to make a play, I’ll make it for him; and when we need a play, he makes plays. Really good QB.”
The slender 6-foot-2 Whitehead was asked what is his greatest attribute as a receiver, but humbly could not pinpoint one trait: “Greatest attribute? Good route-runner ... I’ve got good speed, so that kind’ve helps me ... good hands ... Yeah,” Whitehead responded.
Regarding Whitehead, 2nd-year Hickory Head Coach Bill Dungee gushed, “I’m so proud of him, most of all because of his patience. The first two games teams were really designing things to take him away (from Hickory’s offense). So I told him, ‘Sometimes you’ve gotta be a decoy, and let your other teammates (make plays). He’s unselfish.
“All of us get frustrated, but he’s unselfish. You tell him, ‘We’re comin’ back to you, and when we come back to you, make a play,’ and he makes the play. So I’m so proud of him,” Dungee continued. “He’s been working. He’s just a phenomenal young man.”
“We have Matthew Cannone, we have Jackson Pryts, we have Rocco (Iacino), we have a good running back, Clay Wiesen, so it just brings everything all together,” Whitehead explained. “When they’re getting covered, then it’s my turn, so I make plays ... they make plays ... we all just play ball.”
Defensively, Hickory harassed Henwood’s counterpart, Grove City senior standout signal-caller Logan Breese, into a 12-for-27, 108-yard performance that included Cannone’s pair of picks and another by Whitehead.
Breese broke free for a 5-yard TD run with 2:36 remaining, but Grove City (2-2, 2-2) was trailing 28-0 by that point. The Eagles ended with only 190 total yards on 61 plays.
Hickory had success, particularly on 3rd down, converting 7 of 13.
“The ‘money down,’” Dungee declared. “That’s somethin’ we focus on, especially defensively. Coach Ed (Roberson, Hickory’s defensive coordinator) talks about ‘Get Six.’ Let’s get off the field on third down. ... We know once (Grove City) picks up that initial first down, that tempo’s gonna come. So our focus is get off the field on third downs.
“And on the offensive side,” Dungee continued, “That’s the ‘money down.’ We work that every day, whether short gain, long gain, runnin’ the ball. ... Yeah, that’s the big thing, third down. We’ve gotta be ‘money,’ both offensively and defensively.”
“They did a great job of convertin’ on third down,” Grove City Head Coach Sam Mowrey said in praise of the Hornets. “They have a quarterback that can get the ball down the field, and he has weapons to get the ball to, and they did a fantastic job of converting some of those third-down situations. They have weapons on the field, and they do a good job of executing and made some great catches (Friday) night.
‘But, bottom line, I tip my hat to our defense,” Mowrey continued. “Our kids played their tails off (Friday) night. (The Hornets) got a couple plays, and a team that talented, they’re gonna make some plays. I thought our defense, though, did a nice job out there.”
After turning aside Grove City on 4th-and-goal from Hickory’s 5-yard line, the Hornets embarked on a 7-play, 95-yard drive that required only 3:20. Henwood hit Cannone streaking down the sideline on a 2nd-and-16 play with 3:38 left in the opening canto.
On the 2nd stanza’s initial play Henwood hit Iacino on 11-yard TD toss, culminating a 7-play, 43-yard march that needed only 2:31 for a 14-0 lead.
With 91 seconds remaining to intermission, Henwood went to Whitehead for gains of 16 and 47 yards, setting up Iacino’s 1-yard plunge. The 3rd of Lukas Jones’ 4 PATs had Hickory ahead 21-0 by the break.
Following a scoreless 3rd period, Cannone’s 2nd pick set up the Hornets’ heartbreaker for Grove City – the 63-yard streak to Whitehead with 8:50 remaining.
Last season Hickory ended the Eagles’ 23-game regular-season win skein, but Grove City gained a measure of vindication by ousting the Hornets from the District 10 Class 3A semifinals.
Mowery mused, “Obviously this is a new twist, seein’ each other twice during this season, twice last season. I don’t know if (familiarity between the teams) makes it difficult game-planning. We’re workin’ on just trying’ to see things that we think we can exploit and (the Hornets) are doin’ the same thing over there.
`“But the bottom line is it’s a great rivalry, and it’s always fun playin’ teams that you’ve had a history together –– a recent history. And playin’ Mercer County teams makes for fun Friday nights,” Mowrey said, eyeing his Eagles’ 3rd potential meeting with Hickory come later this month.
For his part, Whitehead summarized Hickory’s success thusly: “Things are pretty good. We just gotta keep goin’, keep rollin’, keep playin’ ball. Can’t let it get to our heads.”
HICKORY 7 14 0 7 28
GROVE CITY 0 0 0 7 7
H — Cannone, 61 pass from Henwood (Jones kick)
H — Iacino, 11 pass from Henwood (Jones kick)
H — Iacino, 1 run (Jones kick)
H — Whitehead, 63 pass from Henwood (Jones kick)
GC — Breese, 5 run (Hake kick)
HICKORY GROVE CITY
15 First downs 16
66 Rushing yards 82
303 Passing yards 108
28-15-1 Att-comp-int 27-12-3
369 Total yards 190
0-0 Fumbles-lost 0-0
10-105 Penalties-yards lost 5-47
Rushing: HICKORY — Wiesen 15-37, Iacino 5-16, Henwood 6-13, Holland 1-2, Pryts 1-(-2); GROVE CITY — Nemec 15-48, Hovis 13-23, Pereira 3-12, Breese 3-(-1).
Passing: HICKORY — Henwood 28-15-1, 303; GROVE CITY — Breese 27-12-3, 108.
Receiving: HICKORY — Whitehead 7-172, Iacino 4-53, Cannone 2-60, Pryts 1-11, Wiesen 1-5; GROVE CITY — Pereira 6-63, Lutz 4-39, Martin 1-4, McCreadie 1-(-3).