Sports

Cats Tame Lions, Clash Next With Cougars

QB Gavin Gosnell charges for a first down, in the huge upset of Shelby. He ran hard all night, despite his injured left knee.

Hendersonville – “Captain Courageous” Gavin Gosnell threw for three touchdowns and the Bearcat defense harassed Shelby’s passer all night, as the Bearcats out-clawed Shelby Golden Lions 33-31 at home Friday to advance to the West Region 2A finals against arch-nemesis Mountain Heritage Cougars.

Hendersonville (7-2) drew the top seed this spring and is home for the first three of four rounds. Round three is Friday, at 7:30 p.m. Typically, HHS plays at Heritage (6-1) in earlier football rounds. Thus, even more, is on the line in this state semifinal Cat-clawing Classic.

Heritage always has bruising runners but is beatable if far behind and forced to pass often. Yet stocky quarterback Gabe Silvers, the leading rusher, threw for a score in the 26-15 win over Mount Pleasant Friday. Kason Hall is a 225-pound bulldozer.

In week three, the Cougars won 40-27 at home. HHS was minus basketball players, who a week before demolished Silvers and crew 55-41. That was also in round three.

Bearcats said knocking off Shelby (6-3) in football makes them feel they can beat anybody. The Golden Lions have a golden pedigree with state titles in six of the past seven seasons — some in larger 2AA. The fast Lions have even won at local 3A power A.C. Reynolds.

Tough Cats are Top Cats

The Bearcats were the tougher football felines last Friday. “We knew if we ‘hit them in the throat,’ it’d set the pace,” powerful linebacker-DE Alex Lemmens said. He often bashed star Lions QB, Gabe Huitt, to thwart the passing attack.

Lemmens and another burly defensive star, freshman C.J. Landrum, were basketball post players. They are eager to finally beat MHHS in football. So is senior linebacker Clay Sawtelle. He made 19 tackles of Cougar ball carriers, in week three.

Sawtelle said “we’re hungry” for redemption and the school’s first state football title since 1968 and ‘69. HHS routinely has outstanding teams, with title hopes.

What is extra special about this year’s Bearcats? The brotherhood is through the roof, several players said. Head coach Jim Sosebee always prompts the Cats in the post-game huddle by asking what their “job” is. The loud chant in response is “love each other!”

Quarterback Gosnell emphasized the spirit. “We have each others’ backs,” remain confident when trailing and take turns making clutch plays.

Synchronization is sizzling, too. “We know what we have to do, and what our teammates are about to do,” Lemmens said. Sawtelle noted the defense’s motto is to “finish” tackles.

Pride is fierce. Sawtelle could tell by the Lions’ trash-talking after they grabbed an early lead that they overconfidently “slept on us” — overlooking and thus disrespecting the Cats. Shelby opened the scoring on the game’s first play from scrimmage. Huitt’s screen to Izay Bridges went for a 77-yard play. That could have broken Bearcat spirits.

Instead, the Courageous Cats responded. Coach Sosebee said, “That didn’t shake us. They ‘took their swings’ at us” with big plays. But “we’re not scared of anything.”

Capt. Courageous

One play above all reflected Bearcat grit. “Captain Courageous” Gosnell gutted out a run, making the first down on a critical third-and-one play. This sustained the final HHS scoring drive — culminated by Jay Gaines’ seven-yard run for a 33-24 lead — with 1:34 left in the third quarter.

Gosnell charged to his left on a keeper. He smashed over star defensive end Malaki Hamrick, then surged for enough yardage to the Shelby 45. Gosnell said he was determined to make the “big play.”

Gosnell did so despite recovering from a severely bruised left knee, which in the prior game buckled and was injured by hits. He was feared injured for a long time.

But as his father Dustin Gosnell noted, the MRI on Gavin instead showed no ACL tear. Gavin said he was medically cleared Monday, and resumed practice on Tuesday — four days after the injury. After that key run, he hobbled a bit. Yet later, he made two more runs to sustain drives. Gosnell said after beating Shelby that his knee felt fine. Teammates said Gosnell’s hardnosed play inspired them.

Gosnell Goes Downtown

A decisive play set the tone for HHS to lead in the entire second half. Barely ahead 19-17 at halftime, HHS got the ball first in the third quarter. Gosnell shelled Shelby on the first scrimmage play. He threw a strike to wide-open Fabian Mills at the 35, for a 55-yard score.

Shelby responded as the teams twice traded TDs. But Shelby could not put two scores in a row together. Instead, HHS regrouped and its lead varied from two to one score, back to two scores, then down to one in the final minute and a half.

Shelby scored the final TD. But its onside kick — a low liner — was snatched by Keyshawn Smith. HHS then ran out the clock.

Gosnell’s passing carried the offense. He passed for nearly 200 yards and three TDs and was far more accurate than his counterpart. Gosnell gave HHS its first lead, with an 11-yard strike to Fabian Mills. Cooper King’s PAT made it 10-7. King drilled a 42-yard field goal for the first HHS points. After a Shelby field goal tied it at 10-10, Gosnell hit sophomore, Eric Rasheed, on a crossing pattern for a 50-yard gain, then soon after connected with Triston Peterkin for a 12-yard scoring play. HHS thus led 17-10.

Defense Pressures Lions

The Bearcat defense’s most dynamic moment soon followed — converging on Huitt in the end zone. Huitt panicked, threw the ball away to avoid the sack, but was called for grounding. That is an automatic two-point safety. It expanded the HHS lead to two scores for the first time that night — at 19-10 — three minutes before halftime.

Quick Sawtelle registered two sacks in a row in the fourth quarter, to help clinch victory. On one sack, he and massive 325-pound senior Trevor Musselwhite sandwiched Huitt. Lennard Benniefield made a clutch interception, with six minutes.

As tremendous as the upset win over Shelby was, Coach Sosebee reminded his players they need to win twice more to earn title “rings.”

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