Woodside’s three scores, key defensive stands lift Mid-County to 20-16 win

Close games are the norm when Mid-County and Knoxville meet on the football field, and Friday night was no exception.

Bret Woodside scored three touchdowns for the Cougars and the M-C defense came up big in the fourth quarter to preserve a 20-16 win over the Blue Bullets at Bill Adams Field. It was a big bounce-back performance for a Mid-County team that was dominated in the trenches in its 26-14 season-opening loss to Abingdon-Avon.

“The one thing I’m so happy about — besides winning — is we weren’t physical and we weren’t emotional last week, but tonight we were,” Mid-County head coach Gary Denhart said. “We played physical football. We had a great week of practice. It was loud, it was emotional. I could tell when I walked in the door at school today that the kids were excited. To be 0-1 and be excited, I just had a great feeling.”

Knoxville head coach Ryan Hebard was left to lament opportunities that slipped away as his team fell to 0-2.

“We played hard enough to win. We just didn’t execute well enough to win,” Hebard said. 

The last two meetings between the teams were decided by a single point — Knoxville winning 20-19 in 2014 and Mid-County returning the favor 21-20 in 2016. 

“When the conference reshuffled, I wanted that game,” Hebard said of the Blue Bullets vs. the Cougars in Prairieland/Lincoln Trail crossover scheduling. “It’s a 12-mile game. Everybody in the communities know each other and it’s been a barn burner year in and year out. It is a great game.”

This year’s meeting came down to multiple big stands by the M-C defense. 

The Cougars held on fourth-and-goal late in the first half, recovered a Knoxville fumble at the M-C 14-yard line with 7:40 remaining and stuffed the Blue Bullets on fourth-and-3 at the M-C 27 with just over a minute to go.

“We executed a little better on offense, but our biggest thing was defense,” Denhart said. “We had some kids that just didn’t play well last week, for whatever reason, that played well tonight on defense. I’m so impressed with our defensive line.”

Mid-County struck first as Woodside grabbed a throw-back screen from Jacob Varner and rolled 76 yards to put the hosts on top 7-0.

Knoxville answered on its next possession as the Blue Bullets marched 60 yards in 12 plays — all on the ground — to take an 8-7 lead with 2:36 left in the opening quarter. Kage Leab did the honors from seven yards out, and he also punched in the two-point conversion.

Woodside tallied his second score of night, this time from nine yards out, and Nathan Whitman booted the PAT as the Cougars regained the lead 14-8 with 6:32 remaining before half.

Knoxville marched on its final possession of the half, but an errant pitch to Leab on fourth-and-goal at the M-C 5 thwarted the scoring chance.

Mid-County stretched its lead to two scores, 20-8, when Woodside rolled 12 yards around right end at the 3:53 mark of the third quarter.

Leab had the answer again, bolting in from 25 yards out to pull the visitors within 20-16 late in the third frame.

The Blue Bullets were poised to take the lead with first-and-goal at the M-C 9 midway through the fourth quarter, but M-C lineman Charlie Gibbons pounced on a Knoxville fumble to end the threat.

Knoxville moved inside M-C’s 30 in the closing minutes, only to turn the ball over on downs when the M-C defense stuffed Seth Clay on fourth-and-3 at the 27.

“Hats off to their kids. They made plays and took care of the ball,” Hebard said.

Woodside finished with 72 yards rushing on 12 carries and added two catches for 82 yards. Varner led M-C with 82 yards rushing on 22 attempts. 

Case Hennenfent led the Blue Bullets with 107 yards on 22 carries, and Leab added 49 yards and two scores.

Mid-County opens Lincoln Trail Conference play at home Friday, Sept. 8, against an 0-2 Mercer County squad.