The White House Blue Devils played spoiler Thursday night, defeating the Waverly Central Tigers 36-34 under the bright lights of Nissan Stadium.
With all of the attention on the flooding and tragedy in Humphreys County, the Tennessee Titans opened up their home field for Waverly’s Week 5 game. The Tigers celebrated homecoming and senior night on the biggest stage in the state.
The Blue Devils shortened the Tigers’ celebration, relying heavily on breakout plays to get on the board.
After a Waverly touchdown and back-to-back punts, senior quarterback Ranen Blackburn appeared to have answered with a 65-yard touchdown, but it was called back due to a penalty. Just two plays later, Blackburn took it 67 yards to the end zone, and that one stood.
Later in the half, Blackburn found Bryson Harper over the top for 62 yards and the score. Harper knocked a 35-yard field goal through the uprights to give the Blue Devils a 16-14 halftime lead.
The Blue Devils kept their big-play momentum in the second half. On the first two drives of the second half, Reece McAfee scored on runs of over 60 yards to widen the gap to 16 points. Blackburn also found Harper again for a 61-yard score.
The Tigers fought back as Jacob Dooley found Bryce Stanfield for two touchdowns in the final four minutes, but Waverly ran out of time after a failed onside kick.
The Blue Devils were held to minimal gains outside of their five touchdown plays, each of which started from inside their own 40-yard line. Of their 501 yards, 317 came on those five plays. The Tigers keyed in on Blackburn, which let the other players run wild.
“We’re just trying to spread the ball out a little bit more,” Blackburn said. “Our line did a tremendous job blocking when we needed the blocks. The holes were there. We just hit the crease, stuck our foot in the ground and got north.”
The Blue Devils used a lot of pre-snap shifts to get into unpredictable formations. Head coach Ryan Hamilton tried to keep the defense off-balance with his alignments.
“I think being able to be in multiple formations, those types of things, kind of give us an advantage right there, trying to disguise some things,” Hamilton said. “You’ve got to defend several parts of the field, our receivers, or tail backs and then Ranen, of course, is a wild card.
“I think that makes it tough on any defense, especially when we’re running our quarterback.”
Blackburn, who became the school’s first player to throw and run for over 1,000 yards last week, had another dynamic night running behind his offensive line. He carried the ball 12 times for 185 yards and a touchdown while throwing 5-for-7 for 163 yards and two touchdowns.
“(Blackburn’s) a special talent, but a lot of credit goes to that offensive line,” Waverly head coach Randall Boldin said. “I thought they blocked really, really good tonight, and they opened up a lot of lanes for him. If we missed one gap, the kid’s gone.”
His explosiveness allowed other players to get open and vice versa. McAfee had 13 carries for 156 yards and two touchdowns. Harper caught three passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns.
“Every couple of years, you get to build something like this,” Hamilton said. “You get a group of 24 seniors, and you get the guys around (Blackburn) that make him more successful, too. Ranen’s done a phenomenal job of understanding that it’s the linemen, it’s Reece McAfee, it’s Bryson. It’s the other guys making plays to help create him being more open.
“It’s not a one-man show. They still have to defend more and more things out there.”
Waverly gained 464 yards and could have had more if it was able to haul in a few more passes.
“Defensively, we were put in just the wrong gap, missing tackles; offensively, balls are just bouncing off our receivers’ hands,” Boldin said. “This stuff is very uncharacteristic of us, and we’ve got to get back to work come Monday.”
Ultimately, the night provided more than a win and a loss. The memory of playing at Nissan Stadium will be with the players forever.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Blackburn said. “It was just amazing… I was just thankful to be a part of it.”
For the city of Waverly, the game was a nice reprieve from the troubles it has faced over the last month.
“I think it meant a lot to our community,” Boldin said. “I think our kids learned a lot tonight, glad they got to experience this.”
The Blue Devils move to 2-0 in Region 6-3A and 4-1 overall. They will travel to Sycamore next Friday.
The Tigers pick up their first loss of the season and fall to 1-1 in the region. They will travel to Stewart County next week.