With Henderson’s current 3-0 district record, their appearance in the playoffs is assured. But if you think that means head coach Phil Castles is going to have his team hold back this Friday when the Lions meet the undefeated Carthage Bulldogs, you better think again.
“No,” Castles said. “You play your best.This is a game with a lot of implications. It’s for the district championship. We’re going to approach it that way and we’re going to play hard.”
Without a doubt, the Carthage Bulldogs will be the toughest team that Henderson has faced all season. Though the Lions lost to Pleasant Grove 33-24 in their second game of year, the Bulldogs beat them 28-21 earlier this month. Carthage’s closest district game was against Chapel Hill, who they ended up beating 31-10. They even hold a victory over the Marshall Mavericks, who are ranked in the top five of the state in 5A Division II. But despite these accomplishments, Castles and the Lions refuse to be intimidated.
“It’s still football,” Castles said. “We play these guys year after year. The last two years, we played them twice in the season. We’re very familiar with them and don’t have to change what we do. The last time they lost, they lost to us.”
Even so, Castles recognizes the threat that the Bulldogs pose to his team, who are in the midst of a roll of their own off of their current six-game winning streak. In particular, Castles is looking for ways to defend against Carthage quarterback Gunner Capps who, armed with wide receivers Jacorey Ware and Kel Williams, is more than capable of running up the score early. But Capps is far from Carthage’s only threat. Castles knows that the entire team is on a completely different level than anyone the Lions have faced so far.
“Carthage does everything,” Castles said. “They have a lot of people that move into Carthage’s district just because they have a reputation for being really good. I think if you looked at their kiddos, you’d find that very few of them went to Carthage Elementary.”
For the last several weeks, Castles has pointed to his roster’s depth and chemistry as their two biggest assets. That chemistry will need to shine through in a big way, with every member firing on all cylinders, for Henderson to supersede the Bulldogs as district champs. And with Friday’s game the last time the Henderson seniors will ever compete in Lions Stadium, Castles expects the pressure to mount.
“There’s an emotional part to that,” Castles said. “It’s a big deal and ties into the performance of the game. But it’s called the district of doom for a reason. The district championship does not come easy. And you want a piece of it.