EMORY -- Whitehouse made play after play down the stretch to keep itself alive Thursday night.

When the Wildcats needed one more defensive stop to extend the game and give themselves a chance to win, however, they came up short. Ja'Bray Young ran up the middle for three yards when he needed only two, effectively sealing a 27-23 victory for Melissa on fourth down.

From there, the Cardinals (3-0) kneeled three times as the clock ticked to zero.

“I’m always proud of these kids," Whitehouse coach Marcus Gold said. "They’re always going to come out and fight. But at the end of the day, there’s no moral victory. We play better in all three phases and we can win that football game. We’ve just got to look at this next bye week and get better in those phases and prepare for district.”

Whitehouse scored with 5:12 left to play on a 23-yard strike from Flint Herrington to Kendrion Johnson. The two-point conversion from Jaden Haskins trimmed the Melissa lead to 27-23.

The touchdown was possible only because of a gutsy call on fourth down earlier in the drive. Facing fourth-and-10, Gold decided to fake a punt. Instead of snapping to the punter, the ball went straight to Herrington, who hit Johnson for exactly 10 yards. A facemask penalty added an extra 15 on to the play, giving the Wildcats (2-1) momentum they needed to complete the scoring drive.

“We had faked it a few times this year," Gold said. "I saw they had a guy back and we needed to take a chance and see what was down the field.”

In the third quarter, Whitehouse scored on a 13-yard pass from Herrington to Haskins. Although the pass appeared to be intended for another receiver, Haskins was in the right place -- the corner of the end zone -- to make the grab. A two-point conversion from Kendahl Fry cut the Cardinal lead to 21-15.

Later in the fourth, the Whitehouse defense appeared to have held Melissa, forcing a punt. However, the snap was mishandled and Ian Keever was forced to pick it up and run. With most Wildcats back preparing for the punt, Keever had plenty of room to pick up a first down. He ran 33 yards to keep the drive going. Melissa would eventually score when Lewis tossed his third touchdown of the evening to Tyler Burton from two yards out.

The Whitehouse defense was solid on third down, forcing Melissa to finish 3-for-12. But the Wildcats couldn't seem to get a stop on fourth, where the Cardinals went 4-for-5. The combination of Young and Lewis, who combined for 115 yards rushing, proved too powerful a weapon in short-yardage scenarios.

“Those two kids are special talents," Gold said. "Those two players are what is the definition of that team. (Lewis) is a very good football player. (Young) is a very powerful runner. He’s hard to bring down."

Whitehouse began the game with a 7-0 lead after driving down the field to allow Peyton Kennedy to score a touchdown. However, Melissa responded with three straight touchdowns in the second quarter, including a 37-yard pass to Chase Mapps that was originally called incomplete but later reversed.

Herrington paced the Wildcat offense, throwing for 156 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Haskins led the team in rushing with 115 yards, including four runs of 15-plus yards.

Whitehouse has a bye next week before facing Mount Pleasant at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 28 to open District 9-5A Division II play. Gold said his team hopes to use the bye week to improve and hopefully regain some health. Whitehouse was missing its top receiver, Cameron Cantrell, as well as its kicker, Cooper Clemons, on Thursday.

“Any time you have time off and can rest, it’s an opportunity to get healthy," Gold said. "It’s an opportunity to reevaluate yourself and what you need to get better in.”

Melissa 27, Whitehouse 23

At Wildcat Stadium, Rains

Melissa         0    21    0    6    --    27
Whitehouse      7      0      8    8    –    23

First Quarter
WHI -- Peyton Kennedy 1 run (Grant Brown kick), 4:22.
Second Quarter
MEL—Brendon Lewis 2 run (Hayden Ferguson kick), 11:27.
MEL—Junior Castleberry 9 pass from Lewis (Ferguson kick), 7:26.
MEL -- Chase Mapps 37 pass from Lewis (Ferguson kick), 0:28.
Third Quarter
WHI—Jaden Haskins 13 pass from Flint Herrington (Kendahl Fry 2-point), 3:40.
Fourth Quarter
MEL—Tyler Burton 2 pass from Lewis (2-point failed), 6:02.
WHI—Kendrion Johnson 23 pass from Herrington (Haskins 2-point), 5:12.

                                           MEL                   WHI
First Downs                          14                      14
Total Yards                           261                   271
Rushes-Yards                  45-128             22-115
Passing Yards                       133                  156
Comp.-Att.-Int.                 14-21-0            16-31-1
Punts-Avg.                       4-39.3              6-24.3
Fumbles-Lost                         1-0                  0-0
Penalties-Yards                     4-40                6-35

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
RUSHING—Melissa, Ja'Bray Young 26-71, Brendon Lewis 13-44, Ian Keever 1-33, Chance Mapps 1-2, Braylon Brown 1-(-2), Team 3-(-20). Whitehouse, Jaden Haskins 14-115, Carter Adams 2-12, Peyton Kennedy 1-1, Flint Herrington 5-(-13).
PASSING—Melissa, Brendon Lewis 14-21-0—133. Whitehouse, Herrington 16-31-1—156.
RECEIVING—Melissa, Chase Mapps 4-67, Tyler Burton 4-26, Young 4-20, Kennedy Lewis 1-11, Junior Castleberry 1-9. Whitehouse, Kendrion Johnson 5-59, Kendahl Fry 6-42, Austin Barron 3-28, Cameron Johnson 1-14, Jaden Haskins 1-13.