Henderson Enjoying First 6-0 Start Since 2011 After Season-Defining Win Over Arch-Rival Carthage
The clock showed zeroes and the scoreboard a 36-28 win for Henderson against arch-rival Carthage. The win over a fellow top 10 team in Class 4A was the biggest for the Lions thus far this season.
Henderson had all the momentum ... right into a bye week.
"I don't really like off weeks one way or another to be honest with you. It's different every year," said Lions coach Phil Castles, whose team moved up to No. 6 in this week's Associated Press Poll in Class 4A. "It throttles you down a little bit if you have a lot of momentum, but it can get you healthy if you have some kids banged up. It's at least good for us to catch our breath a little bit and get ready for the next part of this district."
Henderson, which last started 6-0 in 2011, hadn't faced much a challenge all season going into the Carthage game. The Lions won their first five games by more than 33 points per game and hadn't scored fewer than 40 points in any contest.
The Lions raced out to a 22-0 lead in 14:10 and their defense held up against Carthage's furious comeback -- the Bulldogs scored 21 of the game's final 28 points and got within eight with 3:44 left to play.
"The big deal for us was we've been in some ballgames this year where we didn't necessarily have to play for four quarters, so it was good to see the kids respond where they had to make some stops on defense and move the sticks on offense when we had to do that," Castles said.
Henderson is on a mission after missing the playoffs in 2015, a year after going four rounds deep in the playoffs. Friday's win against Carthage was undoubtedly the Lions' biggest under Castles since a 60-43 win over Jasper in the third round of the 2014 playoffs.
"Any time you matchup against Carthage and come out on top it's obviously a big win. It's a big rivalry game," Castles said. "Both of us are having really good seasons and both have really good teams. Any time you win a matchup like that it's enjoyable for sure."
The Lions might have had their smallest point output of the season, but their offense showed up at big moments. After Carthage got within 22-7 with just 1:59 left in the first half, Henderson responded 49 seconds later on a 72-yard touchdown run by running back Lakendrick VanZandt. VanZandt would score again early in the third quarter to respond to a 59-yard touchdown pass 38 seconds after his first score in the second quarter.
VanZandt and Trestan Ebner, both committed to TCU, each scored two touchdowns in the win. Both are among the leaders in East Texas in rushing and receiving -- VanZandt has 858 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground while Ebner has 22 catches for 459 yards and eight touchdowns.
"These kids are hard workers, and they're used to working hard," Castles said. "A lot of our kids have played varsity for three years and they're seniors now. They went deep in the playoffs two years ago and missed the playoffs last year, so it became more important to them. They work like it's important, which makes coaching a lot easier."
Defensively, Henderson held its own despite the Lions turning the ball over three times. That, Castles said, was the key to his team's victory and something to focus on during the off week.
"They have one of the better passing games in Texas so it was good to see our defense and secondary respond the way they did," Castles said. "Obviously you've got to be able to hold on to the ball and win that part of the game. That's something we want to focus on here on out, taking the ball away from the other team and controlling the ball and clock."
Castles said a win like the one against Carthage is a testament to the type of players he coaches this year -- no matter who gets in the end zone or who makes the big play, all the Lions care about is getting a win.
"The special thing about these kids is they're unselfish. They're not "me-me" people, and they're not prima donnas," Castles said. "They're team-oriented, and they have great leadership ability. Our team chemistry is dictated largely by how our kids respond to each other. That's what's special about this bunch and sets them apart."
Castles will see Carthage on the field again this week, but this time will be from the stands when he watches Carthage take on Kilgore, which Henderson is facing next week following the bye.
As everyone knows with the District of Doom, the next week is almost always as tough or tougher than the week before, and Henderson is in Kilgore mode. Castles said ball control is at its upmost importance against a team like Kilgore.
"That's escalated even more because of the style of offense and defense they play. They're definitely a ball control team," Castles said. "They're sound, they do smart things. I'm looking forward to seeing them play Carthage and we can see what we need to prepare for."