Blue Springs cornerback Stephen Benson wasn’t shy when talking about the way the defense played during the season-opening win against Lee’s Summit last week, a shootout that finished 58-45.
“Last week was bad. All summer we worked hard, and last week wasn’t good,” he said.
Week 2 went much better.
The Wildcat defense got several stops in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s thrilling 21-20 win over Lee’s Summit West, propelling them to 2-0 on the season.
“They have some good players to slow down,” Wildcats head coach Kelly Donohoe said of the Titan offense. “Our defense stepped up in big moments. They stepped up for three straight drives.”
Blue Springs took a 21-7 lead into the half but the Titans didn’t go quietly. getting an interception on the first drive of the half and turning it into seven points on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Cole Taylor to Zach Shanholtzer to make it 21-14.
The Titan defense forced a quick punt and the offense went down the field again, scoring on a 19-yard run from Phillip Brooks on a direct snap with 1:43 left in the third quarter. What proved to be a pivotal bad snap thwarted the extra point to leave it at 21-20.
On Blue Springs’ next drive, another turnover – this one a fumble by Jaylen Ivey, as he barely touched the ball before getting hit hard in the backfield – forced the defense back on the field.
But this time the Wildcats defense took a stand. In the fourth quarter alone, they broke up a pass on a fake punt attempt, forced a punt and forced a turnover on downs.
“We were focused all week in practice,” Benson said of the defense. “The defensive line, the linebackers, everyone was flying to the ball. The defensive backs were in the right coverage. The defense did great.”
On those final three drives, the Titans got some yards on the ground but with time against them, they had to go to the air and got nothing. The Wildcat secondary forced Taylor to go 0-for-8 in the fourth quarter and he was just 6-for-21 for the game.
“We have a lot of depth in the secondary,” Benson said. “A lot of guys have stepped up. We had a safety go down this week and two guys in the secondary came up big tonight. … (The defense) played our best this week. But we know we can improve. When we do, we’ll be dangerous.”
Titans head coach Vinny Careswell still saw some good things from Taylor, especially on the ground.
“I thought he threw it well,” he said. “He had some drops and was short on a few fades, but the way he ran the ball was impressive. He ran over some kids. He’s a tough leader.”
Both offenses started the game strong, scoring touchdowns on their opening possessions. The Titans on a 1-yard run by Shanholtzer and the Wildcats on a 25-yard pass from Chase Donohoe to Tyree King.
After that it was quiet until Blue Springs took advantage of a couple of short fields. The first was a 35-yard scoring drive capped off by a 3-yard Michael Warmack touchdown run. Benson set up the next one with an interception that he took into Titan territory.
“I should have returned that,” Benson said with a laugh. “I saw somebody behind me.”
The Wildcats needed to go just 40 yards before the half and with only 12 second left, Donohoe found Tanner Taula from 8 yards out for a touchdown and a 21-7 lead.
“That was a big interception and a huge touchdown before the half,” Kelly Donohoe said.
The game was marred a bit in the final seconds when Ivey was ejected for kicking a Titan player after sealing the win with a 25-yard run on fourth-and-2.
Despite the late scuffle, both coaches were able to put the game in perspective.
“I’m proud of the fact that we were down two scores at half and came back,” Careswell said. “We came out and fought. We gave ourselves a chance to win.”
Added Donohoe, “This is big football every week. We just need to keep getting in the win column.”