Whitney High School coach Zac McNally wanted to be aggressive early against Lincoln on Friday night.
He did so by going for it on fourth down on his team’s opening drive. That set the tone.
In an opening-round Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoff game between rivals Whitney and Lincoln, the Wildcats got the best of the Zebras in their second meeting, prevailing 42-21. Lincoln beat Whitney 22-17 earlier this season. Not bad for a Whitney team that went 0-10 last season and will now host a second-round game against another rival in top-seeded Rocklin.
“We won the game that mattered,” McNally said. “We definitely circled this game on the calendar after losing to them the last two years.”
This marked Whitney’s first playoff win since 2013. The winning formula was getting creative in the run game. The Wildcats had 157 of their 205 total rushing yards in the first half. Will Fischer, Nick Miller, Andre Nolan-White and Brian Talley all found the end zone on the ground.
The most electric play on the game came on the final play in the first half. Quarterback Eli Brickhandler threw up a prayer to Ian Simpson, which was tipped and caught for a 40-yard touchdown to give Whitney a 28-14 lead. On that drive, Whitney could’ve kneeled and ran out the clock, but McNally kept his foot on the gas.
“It’s the playoffs and we are burning the boats,” McNally said of his aggressive coaching. “Hernando Cortes once said they were trying to take the island and burn the boats. We said we aren’t going home in our boats. We are going home in theirs.”
Brickhandler passed for 202 yards and two touchdowns — both to Simpson. Those two connected six times for 131 yards.
“Ian Simpson balled out tonight and the offensive line did a good job of protecting me,” Brickhandler said. “It was a team effort on both sides of the ball. Getting the run game going early was a major factor and it fueled our offense the entire night.”
When Lincoln responded with a 68-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 35-21, the Whitney defense buckled down. For the game, Ethan Patterson had two sacks and the defense forced an interception, multiple punts and a key fourth-down stop with under a minute left to seal the win.
As a defensive mind, McNally appreciated his defense’s performance.
“Our defense stepped up when they needed to,” McNally said. “We have a ton of players on defense that are all-league. I wasn’t surprised that they stepped up tonight because they had this game marked on the calendar.”
After going winless a year ago, McNally did not lose his team. Players continued to trust their coach.
And now it’s paying off.
“I’m so proud of these seniors and this team,” McNally said. “It was a team effort tonight.”
Quarry Bowl ll
Whitney will now face Rocklin in what amounts to the prep game of the year in Placer County.
Rocklin is not eligible to host any section playoff games because it violated section bylaw 201a last spring by allowing eighth-graders to work out in the high school weight room. The violation will cost the Thunder home-field advantage and loss of gate money.
The positive is Rocklin won’t have to travel far.
Rocklin beat Whitney earlier this season 27-14 on the road in front of a packed house.
“It’s great that we get a home game,” McNally said. “(Rocklin coach) Jason Adams and I are both defensive guys. It will be a big night in Rocklin next Friday.”