By Ryan Costello, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
HENNESSEY, Okla. —
Hennessey junior Tony Mendoza made his second career start at quarterback Friday against visiting Chisholm, but he made his biggest play — and the game’s last — on defense.
Mendoza intercepted a pass off the hands of Chisholm’s Britton Yunker with just over a minute remaining, ending the Longhorns’ chance to retake a lead and sealing a 1-0 start in 2A-1 play and Hennessey’s 11th straight win against Chisholm, 21-20.
The pass, quarterback Taggart Brown’s third interception of the game, would have given Chisholm a first down near midfield after a sack one play earlier had forced a third-and-20, but Mendoza lunged forward to catch the ball after it deflected off Yunker’s hands, allowing Hennessey to kneel out the final minute.
“I just had to step up, make a play and seal the deal, so they don’t go down and score again,” Mendoza said. “I just thought he was going to catch it … but it slipped out of his hands and I happened to be there at the right time.”
The Eagles took the lead for good on the previous possession, a seven-play, 65-yard drive capped by a 1-yard touchdown by a line-hurdling Mendoza, pulling Hennessey to within 20-19, and William Arndt plowed through to his left on the ensuing two-point conversion attempt to give Hennessey the lead with 4:21 left.
“With an unproven kicker (Johnathan Suarez, who was 1-2 in PATs) who we just started there this week, we were hoping we’d score enough times to get him a lot of reps out there tonight because it’s the first time he’s kicked in a game,” said Hennessey head coach Rick Luetjen.
“We just felt like, going down there, if we scored, that there might not be enough time to get the ball back and have a chance to recover from it.”
“I was exhausted, but I knew we had to make it,” said Arndt, who finished with 170 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. “A lot of adrenaline. I was nervous.”
Chisholm took a 20-13 advantage with a 20-yard touchdown by Luke Ball on a sweep around the right edge, but a missed extra point by Jake Curless, who hit his two other chances, kept Hennessey within seven with 10:30 remaining.
Ball was injured on the first play of Chisholm’s final drive, laying near the Longhorn sideline for several minutes before leaving under his own power with a fractured left wrist.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Chisholm coach Joey Reinart. “He’s a heck of a player, about as tough as we’ve got.”
Chisholm’s Austin Swann caught an 18-yard pass from Brown on fourth-and-seven to finish with a season-best 57 yards on four catches for Chisholm before the Longhorns’ final drive stalled.
Chisholm had an opportunity to take a two-possession lead in the fourth quarter after stopping Hennessey on three plays to take over at its own 29 with 8:40 remaining, but Hennessey’s Jose Sanchez made a leaping interception to give the Eagles the ball back on their own 35 and set up what eventually became the game-winning drive.
Hennessey’s first scoring drive also started with a Chisholm turnover, when Brady Fipps returned a tipped pass for what would have been a score, but a block in the back penalty gave the Eagles the ball at Chisholm’s 33. Arndt scored the game’s first points six plays later on a 3-yard run.
Despite his three-interception night — two of the picks coming off Chisholm receivers’ hands — Brown had his best night as the Longhorns’ starter, completing 12-of-22 passes for 138 yards, both bests in Taggart’s Chisholm career, and a 25-yard touchdown pass to Colton Johnson.
“A couple of those (interceptions) weren’t his fault,” Reinart said. “He’s hitting his spots where they need to be, we’ve just got to get the receivers on the same page. (Hennessey) made some really good plays, too.”
Chisholm senior Bryce Stewart was mostly held in check after a foot injury early in the game, combating that and a Hennessey defense dedicated to plugging the middle. Stewart finished with a season-low 40 yards and a score on 16 carries, but the clogged middle left space on the edge, where Yunker (10 carries, 59 yards) and Ball (four carries, 24 yards) took advantage.
Chisholm outgained Hennessey 262-255 in the series’ closest finish since the start of Hennessey’s 11-game win streak started in 2003. Hennessey’s longest pass came on a double-reverse pass from Edgar Fierro to Sanchez for 41 yards. Hennessey will face a second straight 2A-1 game Friday against visiting Perry.
Chisholm (4-1, 1-1) visits non-district Crooked Oak on Friday.
“It was really emotional tonight,” Reinart said. “They really spent everything they had emotionally. Once we come back (Saturday), we’ll just take a deep breath and get back there, and we’ll be just fine. They’ve got a lot of character, and we’ll show that next week, too.”