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ESTILL -- The run of firsts has ended, for now.
Whale Branch Early College High School, trying for the school's first eight-win season and first trip to the Lower State championship, ran into Shervas Brown. Estill's do-it-all senior ran free in the second half Friday night, leading the Gators to a 20-14 victory in the second round of the Class 1-A Division I playoffs.
The big back was held in check early, as the Warriors loaded the box. But in the second half, Estill spread the field and went to its Wildcat. Brown threw for a score, ran for a score and caught a touchdown pass during the second half.
"They were putting nine in the box," Estill coach J.C. Threatt said. "We had to get them out of the box."
The game was a rematch of a September regular season meeting, when Whale Branch held on late for a 32-20 victory. Threatt recited numbers from that game Friday: five missing starters, five turnovers, 16 penalties for 160 yards. He saw similarly sloppy play during the first half Friday, though without the turnovers. Brown had rushed for -22 yards at halftime.
"We had to regroup," Threatt said. "We played the first half tonight about like we played them the first game. We didn't get over the hump."
Whale Branch coach Jerry Hatcher felt the spread was coming. He told his defense at halftime to be ready.
The Warriors had worked on stopping the plays during practice this week after not having seen much of it the first game. But the Gators were able to get to the edge. By the time Whale Branch plugged the ends, Hatcher said, the damage had been done.
"You earned your 7-4," Hatcher told his team. "You've got nothing to be ashamed of. Hold your head high."
Hatcher was wary of Estill's big names that missed the first meeting, thought that Estill had steadily improved since the first time the teams played. But he knew his Whale Branch team was better, too, and the Warriors' defense dominated Estill's big running backs during the first half, holding the Gators to 26 yards rushing .
The Warriors held Estill without a first down until the Gators' final drive of the half. Estill scored on a quick pass play to a wide open receiver but was whistled for an illegal substitution and eventually punted on fourth-and-goal from the Warriors' 42.
Whale Branch senior Dee Delaney, playing his final high school game, caught two touchdown passes, the first an 18-yard grab during the first quarter when he went up and over a defender and the second a 42-yard catch and run to tie the game in the fourth after Estill had taken its first lead.
But Whale Branch couldn't convert its remaining opportunities. A fumble inside Estill's 20 ended the next drive and, with 1:18 left, Whale Branch couldn't punch it in after reaching the Gators' 24. Delaney got free during the first game, but Threatt made plans to slow him and took him away during the crucial moments. Threatt put a man on Delaney and Brown 20 yards off the ball on the Warriors' final drive to discourage throws to the senior.
Hatcher opted to flood the backside on the final drive, but Brandon Morton's passes fell incomplete. His fourth-down try for Delaney was intercepted by Brown.
The Warriors lingered on the field and later outside their buses, waiting in the cold in hoodies, some still in full uniform with helmets on.
"They're sad now," Hatcher said. "But I told them to look back in three or four weeks, and you'll realize you had a pretty good season."
Estill 20, Whale Branch 14
Whale Branch 6 0 0 8 -- 14
Estill 0 0 8 12 -- 20
WB-- Dee Delaney 18 pass from Brandon Morton (kick failed) :23
E-- DeAngelo Bryant 11 pass from Shervas Brown (Legend Brown pass from Williams) 4:51
E-- Brown 54 pass from Alex Taylor (pass failed) 11:46
WB-- Delaney 42 pass from Morton (Mark Rivers run) 7:14
E-- Brown 70 run (run failed) 4:40
First downs 11 12
Passing yards 83 92
Comp-Att-Int 7-21-1 5-8-1
Rushing 31-172 39-192
Penalties-yards 3-25 7-65
Fumbles-lost 3-3 1-1
Punts-avg 4-37 5-32
Rushing: Whale Branch-- Mark Rivers 17-114, Michael Dantzler 11-65, Trey Nelson 1-1, Brandon Morton 2-(-8). Estill-- Shervas Brown 18-78, Jarvis Singleton 8-52, Legend Brown 6-40, DeAnglo Bryant 2-11, Alex Taylor 4-8.
Passing: Whale Branch-- Brandon Morton 7-21-83-1. Estill-- Taylor 2-5-75-1, Brown 3-3-17.
Receiving: Whale Branch-- Dee Delaney 4-68, Devontae Glover 2-12, Rivers 1-3. Estill-- Bryant 2-32, Brown 1-54, Lorenzo Brown 1-15, Singleton 1-(-9).