By Ryan Costello, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
HENNESSEY, Okla. —
District 2A-1 champion Hennessey and 2A-3 No. 2 seed Washington will be on the same field and in the same round of the state playoffs as they were last year when the Eagles play host at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.
This season, they’ll be in the same boat, too.
The Warriors are breaking in a new quarterback in their spread option offense, with Brady Kulberth taking over for Brock Harmon after the senior suffered a season-ending injury in the final week of the regular season. Hennessey, of course, lost starting quarterback Dylan Hatchel in the third week of the season, and tailback and fellow senior William Arndt suffered a season-ending leg injury two weeks later.
Much like the Eagles’ replacements, Kulberth impressed in his first start. In the opening round against Lexington — not an ideal time to break in a new signal caller — Kulberth effectively provided the difference for the Warriors, rushing for 118 yards on his first five attempts and scoring on three first-half runs to spark a 35-7 halftime lead before Washington coasted to a 41-20 win. The junior slot receiver-turned-option-QB finished with 161 yards on 12 carries and threw for a touchdown, and running back Luke Ladlee gained 152 yards on the ground for three scores, the two combining for the majority of Washington’s 361 yards on the night.
“(Losing Harmon) didn’t change as much as we would have liked it to have changed them,” said Hennessey head coach Rick Luetjen. “Last week, (Kulberth) looked really good. He’s one of their faster kids … That’s kind of added a new dimension to what they do, but offensively they didn’t really do anything different. It probably weakened them at the slot (Kulberth’s previous position) a little bit, but I don’t really think it hurts them a whole lot at quarterback.”
But Hennessey’s defense, most of which is the same as last year’s, didn’t struggle containing the Warriors’ option last postseason, when Washington ran for 201 yards in a 56-21 loss.
“They’re a completely different team, I feel like we’re a completely different team,” Luetjen said. “Maybe we have a bit of an upper hand because we know we beat them here, but we beat the dog out of Crooked Oak last year (54-7) and we were in a dogfight with them this year (28-20). I expect the same thing (against Washington).”
“It’s just really gonna come down to everybody doing their job,” said senior linebacker Abraham Ortega. “That’s what they preach every day; all this week they’ve been telling us, ‘Do your job, and we’ll be fine.’ But you miss one opportunity, and they’ll score. They’ll capitalize on everything.”
Hennessey’s own new pieces continued to impress in their playoff debuts in their new roles.
Tabor Johns cracked the 200-yard mark for the second straight week with 230 and two scores. The sophomore has rushed for 1,115 yards and 13 touchdowns since taking over for Arndt against Perry on Oct. 11. After toting the ball just seven times in the first three weeks of the season, Johns has run on fresh legs to the tune of 171 carries in the eight games since, including a season-high 43 in a 2A-1-clinching 20-12 win against Alva, and 39 last week against Crooked Oak.
“He’s handled (the jump in carries) extremely well,” Luetjen said. “He’s an extremely tough kid. He’s learned on the fly what to look for when he’s running the football, and he’s just been a workhorse for us.”
Mendoza set a career-high for completion percentage against Crooked Oak, hitting on 11 of 13 attempts (85 percent) for 80 yards and a score, and the junior quarterback might be asked to do more against Washington. Luetjen said Mendoza was used sparingly as a passer against a Crooked Oak defense that had the speed to single-cover Hennessey’s receivers, but would have more opportunities against Washington.
“We’ll throw the ball more this week,” Luetjen said. “We feel a little more confident against these guys, and we match up well with them … We feel like that opportunity is there for us more this week than we did last week.”