By: Dale Krisle
It was an incredible evening of football at Cane Ridge High School on Friday night. Both the Cane Ridge Ravens and the Hendersonville Commandos are top tier teams in classification 5A and treated the capacity crowd to quite a show. These two schools entered the 2016 season with the same goal: Win the Region 6-5A title. Cane Ridge and Hendersonville laid it all out on the line and produced a legitimate “Game of the Year” candidate.
Hendersonville under Coach Bruce Hatfield have come as close as anyone to perfecting the Wing-T offense. The Wing-T is based on a misdirection running attack featuring multiple pulling linemen and numerous potential ball carriers from the tailback, fullback, and wing positions. The first score of the game came from a misdirection double-handoff play that allowed Commando star running back Anthony Hughes to burst into the open field and sprint to a 58 yard touchdown. A linebacker lost his assignment on this play to lead to the easy score. The Commando lead would be short lived, however, as Cane Ridge quickly struck on their next possesion. Physical running back Emari Barton would power into the end zone from one yard out after senior Raven receiver Christian Lancaster took a slant reception down inside the three yard line. The score was now tied 7-7.
Senior Cane Ridge quarterback DJ Thorpe lived up to expectations and made outstanding plays all night. Thorpe is a dual threat quarterback but doesn’t give up on the pass as fast as some other running quarterbacks tend to do. His deep ball is pretty and often supremely accurate. Thorpe would make an incredible play on Cane Ridge’s second touchdown of the evening by escaping from the pocket by stiff arming a defender before throwing a perfect ball to Ray’quan Wilson for the 8 yard score. After the game, Thorpe would talk about his close relationship with his receivers, “It’s a big connection. We spend every day together. Before practice, after practice, during practice. We catch balls all the time. We go out places and it’s a family.”
It would now be the Commandos’ turn to respond to adversity and Hendersonville was up to the challenge. Coach Hatfield found success all night with running backs sneaking out into pass routes from the backfield and QB Brett Coker located Luke Carver running down the sidelines alone to get Hendersonille deep into Raven territory. Senior Weston Schwerdt carried the ball across the goal line from 7 yards out to tie the game 14-14 after the PAT. The offensive explosion would continue in the 2nd quarter as Raven running back Jordan Bell really started to get rolling. Bell may be one of the most physical runners in the mid-state and scored the first of his three touchdowns on the evening with a 21 yard touchdown run halfway through the 2nd quarter. A penalty would push back the extra point attempt that would then be missed by Cane Ridge. The missed PAT left Hendersonville only down 6 points at 20-14.
Penalties would derail Hendersonville’s next drive but the Commando defense would force Cane Ridge to punt it back to Hendersonville with a little over two minutes remaining in the first half. Hughes and Schwerdt hit some quick runs to move the ball down to the Raven 39 yard line before Coker would find Hughes on another wheel route to score and put the Commandos up 21-20 at halftime. Hendersonville primarily runs the ball but Coker showed good skill passing and making the correct decisions all night.
Both offenses were somewhat slowed in the 3rd quarter after the defensive coaching staffs had a chance to make adjustments at the half. The only score of the quarter came from a great catch by Christian Lancaster in the corner of the endzone. DJ Thorpe rolled to his right on the play and floated a ball that Lancaster went up and snagged for the score. Lancaster spoke about DJ Thorpe afterwards, “Amazing, amazing, amazing. I’ve been playing with DJ since middle school, my 8th grade year. That should tell you right then and there that me and him know a lot. He knows how I run my routes, he knows where I’m going to be at certain times.” The attempted two point conversion would fail, leaving Cane Ridge the lead at 26-21 at the end of the third quarter.
Early in the 4th quarter, Cane Ridge would make the biggest defensive play of the ballgame and extend the lead to more than one score for the first time all night for either team. Safety Brandon Lewis would read an attempted pass by Brett Coker and jump the route to make the interception. Lewis then used his speed to outrace the trailing Commandos to the endzone for the 55 yard pick six. This would extend the lead for Cane Ridge to 33-21. Lewis had seen that route in film study preparing for this week. “Yeah, film study. I knew they were always targeting #3 (Anthony Hughes) so that’s where I went.”
At this point it seemed Cane Ridge had captured all the momentum and were on the verge of putting Hendersonville away for good. However, Hendersonville is a storied program with heart, discipline, and fight embedded in their DNA. The Commandos would respond with an incredible 4th down conversion that turned into a 32 yard touchdown catch for Anthony Hughes to tighten the game to a score of 33-28. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, Hendersonville had stopped Cane Ridge on defense and received the ball yet again. The Commandos would methodically work their way down the field with hard running and good push from the offensive line. Luke Carver would finish off the drive by running straight through a tackler before running into the end zone for the 16 yard touchdown. The two point conversion would fail but Hendersonville had recaptured the lead 34-33.
The Ravens would respond by moving the ball well on their next drive but it came undone due to a costly holding penalty. Hendersonville took over on offense once again after stopping Cane Ridge on a 4th down attempt in Commando territory. The Wing-T offense is good for running time off the clock and Hendersonville started to move down the field yet again. Anthony Hughes had an amazing night that was capped off with another long touchdown run with 2:40 left in the game. Hughes broke through the heart of the Raven defense to scamper for a thirty yard touchdown run. Hughes would end the night with four touchdowns, 148 yards rushing, and 115 yards receiving. He is surely one of the best players in Region 6-5A. Unfortunately for Hendersonville, the PAT was missed and only left them up seven at 40-33.
Cane Ridge’s offense is built for quick strikes and 2:40 was plenty of time for DJ Thorpe to distribute the ball down the field. Thorpe converted a key 4th down conversion that would have ended the game if unsuccessful by escaping the pocket and stretching the ball across the line to gain. The Ravens would make their way down to the Hendersonville 5 yard line after a pass interference penalty was called against the Commandos. Jordan Bell would then take matters into his own hands as he broke four tackles on his way to an unbelievable touchdown run. Bell would be met by two defenders at the line of scrimmage and two more in the next five yards but prevailed and fought through them all for the score. Bell would describe what he saw on the run later, “I just saw glory. I just saw God to be honest with you. That’s all God and that’s all my linemen that are blocking for me to get those touchdowns.” Carlos Velasquez would hit a pressure packed PAT to tie the game at 40-40 with only 0:28 left in regulation.
Hendersonville would let the clock run out and prepared for overtime. The Commandos were the first team on offense in the extra period and were faced with a 3rd down play from the six yard line. Weston Swerdt would make a great run on a sweep to the right and dove across the goal line for the score. Cane Ridge came up with a huge play a few seconds later as the Ravens blocked Hendersonville’s extra point attempt. Cane Ridge now understood that a touchdown and PAT would win them the ballgame and the Ravens went right back to their power game with Jordan Bell. Bell would batter his way into the end zone from 3 yards out and set up the game winning PAT from Velasquez. Cane Ridge wins a classic 47-46. Cane Ridge Head Coach Eddie Woods talked about what this win meant for his program. “We definitely took that next step. Playing a team like Hendersonville and a program like Hendersonville, we want to take that next step and be a respected program in middle Tennessee….We’ve got a long way to go but that shows that we’ve come a long way as well.”