Survive and advance.
Winfield gave Mulvane all it wanted, but the Wildcats walked away with the stat that counts – a 'W.' The victory helps the Wildcats (6-1, 1-0 in districts) get closer to their postseason hopes, but perhaps more important was the message interpreted from a too close for comfort 27-21 triumph – being lackadaisical is not an option this late in the season.
“I think coming in, being ranked, that some of the people probably took Winfield a little lightly,” said Mulvane linebacker Zach Haynes. “We weren't ready to play by any means. We went through the motions in pregame.
“We just thought we were going to come here and beat the crap out of them.”
The Vikings (3-4, 0-1) were ready for the upset opportunity, and had Mulvane not come alive in the second half, would have finished the job.
Jordan Johnson put Winfield ahead 7-0 with a touchdown run in the first quarter. The Viking defense forced two three-and-outs and a Ty Redington interception by Sam Camp to frustrate the Mulvane attack early.
Tanner Cusick picked up a fumble for the Wildcats in the second quarter. Cole Williams rumbled in from two yards out soon after to tie the game. The Vikings responded when Kendyl Gard took a quick slant reception 42 yards to give Winfield a 14-7 lead.
Mulvane's last two possessions of the half ended with another Redington interception and a missed field goal off the upright as time expired.
“We just didn't play our best – at all,” said Mulvane safety Kolby Fennewald. “Our offense wasn't really getting going. We weren't clicking that well. Defense, we were misaligned a couple times and we didn't break down and make our tackles like we should.”
In need of a spark in the second half, Fennewald and Haynes accepted the responsibility.
When Fennewald had made as many defenders miss as he could with his juking punt returns, he welcomed contact, mashing into the opposition. Haynes introduced Winfield's quarterbacks to the turf with two bone-chilling sacks, creating unmanageable down-and-distances.
“We work our tails off in practice,” Haynes said. “To come out and to get it going, it's a good feeling to know we did it and it wasn't the offense that did it.”
In between, the momentum rejuvenated Mulvane's arsenal just long enough to surge ahead.
Redington pierced the secondary with a 57-yard touchdown to Alex Evans. On the next drive, Michael Mason hammered out a 38-yard run to set up a four-yard sprint up the gut for Redington for a score. Redington gave Mulvane breathing room when he hit RJ Rieger with an 11-yard touchdown, putting the Wildcats ahead 27-14.
“(Redington's) a performer,” said Haynes. “We needed him, and he helped us out while we were helping him out.”
Aubrey Herlocker took a reception 50 yards for Winfield to cut the deficit to 27-21 with under seven minutes to go, but Mulvane's defense firmed up again to stop the Vikings on two separate drives in the final four minutes.
Fennewald iced the game with an interception.
The pick let the Wildcats – and the Fennewald residence – sleep easy.
“Awfully proud no matter what he does – he's a great boy – but when he sealed the deal, that was pretty nice,” said Mulvane Head Coach Dave Fennewald, Kolby's father.
The Wildcats left Winfield unscathed with another tally in the win column. However, the team is cognizant that another sloppy start could doom them.
“We're just going to try to keep going 1-0 through districts,” Kolby said. “Everyone right now is on an even playing field now.”