After a season's absence, the West Genesee football team is finding its way back to the Section III Class AA playoffs - even if it hasn't been a smooth ride.
In fact, the Wildcats were 1-4 going into Friday night's home game against Henninger. But with an offense that kept answering every time the Black Knights challenged them, WG prevailed 35-33 and punched its post-season ticket.
Nearly flawless in the pocket, Wildcat quarterback Matt Naton threw 24 passes, completing 18 of them for 254 yards. Part of the reason he was so good was that WG established a balanced in a wild, back-and-forth first half.
On the game's opening possession, the Wildcats took 15 plays to go 75 yards, the last yard a short touchdown pass from Naton to Jalen Thomas as Zach Snow caught the ensuing two-point pass.
Moments later, it was 8-7, Henninger getting on the board as, on third-and-10, Eryc Dykes threw a screen pass from midfield to Chris Hicks, who sped past WG's defenders down the sideline to the end zone.
The Black Knights went ahead 13-8 early in the second quarter when Shakim Clark burst up the middle 22 yards for his team's second TD. But the Wildcats countered with a second long march, 83 yards covered in 12 plays. Thomas went the final six yards for his second TD, and Mike Eunice added the two-point run as WG led again, 16-13.
Instead of getting a stop, the Wildcats again could not stop Henninger's attack as it took 10 plays to go 64 yards, Dykes finding Hicks for a 10-yard scoring pass 90 seconds before halftime.
Those 90 seconds were enough time for Naton to race his Wildcats downfield to the Black Knights' six-yard line. Thomas again finished it off, his third touchdown with 12 seconds left making it 23-20 at the break.
In a game that had already seen four lead changes, a fifth came in the third quarter thanks to Henninger's latest long march, ending with Hicks catching his third scoring pass of the night.
Again, WG trailed, 27-23. Again, it came back, Naton turning to his favorite receiver, Pat Brown, on consecutive scoring drives as the game entered the homestretch.
First, Naton found Brown for a 12-yard scoring pass that produced the sixth lead change at 29-27. Then, early in the fourth quarter, Naton went back to Brown in the end zone, the TD covering 25 yards as Brown finished with 140 yards on 11 catches.
Still, Henninger wasn't done, as missed conversions left the Black Knights only down by eight, 35-27. Sure enough, it cut the margin to two on Dykes' four-yard TD pass to Hicks with four minutes left, but could not hit on the tying conversion.
WG couldn't run out the clock, giving the Black Knights one more chance with a kicker, Andres Abadie, who had hit a 47-yard field goal earlier this season. But the Wildcat defense, whose key fourth-down stop led to the final TD, would stop Henninger one last time.
The Wildcats will look for back-to-back wins next Friday when it plays Fowler, the last act before the AA playoffs commence on Oct. 22.