Tim Haney’s return to Houston High School brought tears to his eyes and to others.
The school’s new jumbotron displayed a pre-game video “Welcome Back Coach Haney,” which showed clips of his 21-year tenure as head coach. Haney was 115-75 and went to the state semifinals in 1999 and 2001.
“I have tons of respect for coach Haney,” said Houston offensive lineman Hardy Atherton. “What he did for this program put it on the map and set a culture and expectation for excellence.”
Now at Bartlett, Haney was back at Houston for the first time as a head coach when the Panthers played the Mustangs on Friday in Germantown.
Bartlett running back Marquavis Weaver said, “When I first heard that he was going to become head coach, the Houston game popped into my head. I really wanted to beat Houston, not only for the team but for coach Haney as well.”
Houston head coach Will Hudgens was hired as an assistant coach in Haney’s last year at Houston.
“My hat’s off to him. He is a tremendous coach and a tremendous man,” said Hudgens. “Emotions are running high. He put in the sweat, blood and tears.”
Before the game, Haney said, “It’s all good. It’s about the kids anyway, it’s not about anything else.”
After the game, Haney was in tears consoling his team. Bartlett kicker Brian Cannon missed a 21-yard field goal as time expired, preserving a 14-13 Houston victory. Houston players cried tears of joy.
“I was in tears after the game, winning on the turf was first on our list of goals this year and to be a part of that was huge to me,” said Atherton.
It was the Mustangs’ first victory on the new artificial grass surface that was installed before the 2015 season. The last home victory was over Collierville in the TSSAA playoffs in November 2014.
“This provides confidence and momentum for our guys. The first home win in a year-and-a-half, getting that monkey off our backs, I probably harp on it too much. I really wanted it for our kids,” said Hudgens. “I really wanted it for this senior group. They have shown a lot of leadership. They have got the guys working all together in the right direction believing in one goal.”
Houston senior running back Carson Blackfan said, “It felt great to win on this turf. I have never felt this before. It’s awesome. Hopefully we can keep rolling.”
The victory improved Houston to 2-2, 2-0 in Region 4-6A and doubled their win total from last season. The Mustangs play this Friday at Whitehaven (5-0), Shelby-Metro’s No. 1 ranked team. The Panthers (3-2, 0-2) host White Station (3-2, 2-0) this Friday.
The dramatic finish began with 3:12 left. Bartlett was on its 44-yard line. In his second week at quarterback, Bartlett’s Preston Raines threw three incomplete passes before Houston was charged with pass interference at the Houston 46.
With a first down, Raines threw a 22-yard pass to Josh Exom that went to the Houston 24. Myron Washington then ran to the 20 and Raines to the 15-yard line. Facing fourth down-and-four, Cannon went in to attempt a 34-yard field goal. Houston was penalized for encroachment and Bartlett got a first down at the 14.
Raines ran two plays before the Panthers called time out with three seconds left. Cannon was about to kick a 26-yard field goal but Houston was called for illegal procedure.
Cannon then went in to kick a 21-yard field goal, his first attempt at a field goal all season. He missed.
“Devastating. I really wanted to win,” said Bartlett lineman Ben Kunkle. “It hurts a lot. We all played our heart out. We have got to work hard in practice every day and can’t let it get close like this. We can’t have any more close games.”
Said Bartlett wide receiver Jackson Hartsell, “It’s a heartbreaker, you don’t deny it. There is nothing we can do about it but come back next week and play even harder. We had a lot to show for tonight. We executed properly. Sometimes it doesn’t fall your way.”
Haney said of Cannon, “It is not his fault. That is the life of a kicker. It should not have come down to that. We had chances throughout the game. It wasn’t that one play.”
Hudgens told his players to “push up front to maybe give them a disruption at little bit. You don’t ever want to say that is the reason the team lost. That is tough. You don’t ever want to see it come down and win that way but at the end of the day it is a win for us and we gladly put that in the left-hand column.
“Our guys have done a great job all year fighting through adversity and overcoming. We have talked about it. There are ups and downs in every game. You have got to be able to ride the waves and stay at even keel. Our guys have done a really good job of keep grinding. We don’t have a lot of depth and any time an injury pops us, we have to have guys to be able to step in and play. We have been able to do that all year.”
With Houston senior quarterback Garrett Bates sustaining a concussion during the Christian Brothers game last week, he did not play. Loagnn Freeman guided the Mustangs at quarterback. Freeman had started against Ridgeway, the first game.
“He didn’t have a great outing against Ridgeway. Garrett came in and played. We had been bouncing him (Freeman) around trying to find a place for a great kid and great athlete. (He played wide out receiver after Ridgeway and prior to Bartlett). He did a tremendous job of filling in.”
A senior, Freeman completed 12-of-22 passes for 139 yards and rushed for 101 yards on 18 carries.
Starting his second game at quarterback, Raines, a sophomore, completed 9 of 18 passes for 120 yards and threw a first-quarter touchdown to J.J. Vaden, who started at quarterback last year and played QB this year before being moved to wide receiver for the Oakhaven game on Sept. 9.
Vaden’s 14-yard touchdown reception with 8:22 left in the first quarter and Cannon’s PAT gave the Panthers a 7-0 lead.
“It was great catching that touchdown,” said Vaiden, a junior, who finished with three receptions for 63 yards. “I think I’m adjusting well at wide receiver. I feel like it’s a lot better for our offense and I think it gives me better opportunities to make plays as an athlete.”
Haney said, “We moved around the right pieces in the right places.”
A 42-yard run by Bartlett senior Marquavis Weaver got the Panthers to the Houston 38. Raines threw a 24-yard pass to LaKeece Kimble to get to the 14.
The Mustangs scored on their next possession. Blackfan ran 28 yards for a touchdown with 3:00 left in the first quarter. The Panthers blocked Daniel Chi’s PAT to maintain the lead, 7-6.
The 79-yard drive was highlighted by Blackfan’s 11 yard run to the Houston 32, Freeman’s 16-yard run to the 48. After a Houston penalty, Freeman ran 10 yards and later on fourth-and-two at the Bartlett 44-yard line, Blackfan ran for a first down. On fourth-and-six, Freeman ran for a first down to the Bartlett 28-yard line with 3:19 left.
During the game the Mustangs would convert five-of-seven fourth downs.
Blackfan gained 169 yards on 32 carries.
“The running back they had (Blackfan) is one heck of a player,” said Hartsell. “Sometimes we couldn’t stop him. He had a lot of yards. More containment on him probably would have got us a better outcome.”
In the second quarter Houston got a first down on the Bartlett 32-yard line. A delay of game penalty on Houston and a sack of Freeman by Bartlett’s Caleb Jones, the first sack of the game with 9:49 left, stalled the drive. Bartlett then recovered a Houston fumble at its 11-yard line.
Houston’s J.C. Reynolds made an excellent defensive play, knocking down a Raines pass to Vaiden near the 15-yard line.
Bartlett was on the Houston 42. Later in the second quarter, Bartlett recovered a Houston fumble at the Panther 40-yard line.
Facing a fourth-and-one at the Houston 32, Freeman got a first down with 1:35 left. A Freeman to Tate pass got a first down at the Bartlett 23 after facing fourth-and-four. Chi attempted a 45-yard field goal that failed.
Houston had seven penalties for 50 yards in the first half.
With less than a minute gone in the third quarter, Bartlett added to its lead. With 11:21 left Weaver ran 61 yards for a touchdown for a 13-6 lead. Cannon’s PAT was blocked.
“I was thinking not to get a big head and keep it going and let’s come out with a W,” said Weaver, who rushed for a game-high 194 yards on 18 carries. “I encouraged my team. I let them know it’s not only about one person, it’s the whole team. I contributed by running as hard as I could for God.”
Later in the third, Weaver had a 13-yard run. Blackfan would then have an 11-yard run and Freeman a 16-yard run to the Bartlett 22-yard line. Blackfan ran to the 15-yard line. The Mustangs got a first down at the 10.
Blackfan ran to the 5. All night, he found seams and attacked gaps noted Bartlett radio broadcasters.
Bartlett defense then stopped Blackfan at the 4-yard line with 3:17 left, their first of two goal-line stands.
After a punt by Bartlett, the Mustangs took over at the Bartlett 39, A first-down pass from Freeman to Mark Taverna got to the 28. Blackfan ran to the 15 for a 13-yard gain. Blackfan then ran to the 5.
On fourth-and-one, Bartlett’s defense stopped Blackfan at the 2.
With the Panthers getting the ball at the 2, Weaver was tackled in the end zone for a safety. Houston trailed 13-8 with 11:27 left to play.
The Mustangs would then take the lead on 52-yard drive. Blackfan and Freeman led the drive along with Terrell Tatum. Freeman fired an 11-yard touchdown pass to Reynolds with 7:50 left and the Mustangs led 14-13.
Freeman’s two-point attempt was stopped.
The Panthers had some highlight reel throws when Raines hit Vaden for a 28-yard pass that went to the Bartlett 43 in the fourth quarter.
Houston’s defense then stopped the drive.
“Our defense in the second half (turned the game around),” said Blackfan. “We had some key stops. The offense made some key plays. Our defense backed them up and we got that safety. The defense has some playmakers on that side of the ball. We had faith in them. It’s amazing. Our coaches kept us in it. We had a good game plan coming out in the second half.”
Houston offensive left guard Kameron Shorter said of his team’s defense, “They played amazing. They showed up at the end. The offense came off a little slow but when we got our stride going, we kicked in and everybody shut them down. I would say that we stayed in the fight. We didn’t give up.”
The Panthers had 13 first downs and Houston 20. Rushing Bartlett had 201 yards and 130 yards passing. Mario Washington caught four passes for nine yards. Houston had 278 yards rushing and 139 yards passing. Tatum caught three passes for 66 yards and Jordan Monk three passes for 24 yards.
Blackfan’s rushing came because of heart and his offensive line he said.
“You have got to have heart to play this game. It starts with the offensive line. They battled. We had some adversity. We had a couple of guys go down (with injuries). We have been down late in the fourth quarter before but able to come back.”
A senior, Shorter injured his knee in the second half. “I sprained my MCL again. I don’t know how long I will be out. Probably about a week or so,” he said.
The offensive line starters for Houston also were Mark Conlee at right tackle, Ryan Bullock center, Atherton right guard who formerly played tight end. Atherton played the position because of an injury to Bruce Brown. Kip Frankland is right tackle and Jackson Little tight end.
Hudgens said, “Of course C.J. Blackfan is going to run hard every night for us. The offensive line up front from tackle to tackle and end to end did a really good job. We had a couple of other guys, Jake Christofersen and Jalen Jackson, we had to move around and put in new positions. They are not going to get the glory. They came in and blocked their butts off and did what they were supposed to do and played their role tremendously.
“The whole (defensive) group played well. Jackson played really well for us. The whole unit just swarmed the ball. Take your hats off to Bartlett. They came in and played their butts off. We are fortunate enough to sneak one out.”
Haney entered the game with a desire to keep improving.
“This is a building process,” he said.
After the game, Haney told the Panthers “to keep their heads up.”
“Even though we didn’t get the win and losing is not acceptable, we took a big step tonight. I am proud of these young men. They gave great effort. They did exactly what we asked of them. They played hard and I am proud of them. They all played well as a team and that is what it’s about. We gain confidence.”
Weaver said, “I am a little hurt right now. I feel disappointed.”
Atherton called the victory “huge” and built “ a lot of trust for each other. We knew going into it this was a must-win game for our team and for our confidence with last year’s stigma lingering.”
Written by Bill Sorrell, special to the Express.