Casey Whittle is answering his phone again.
The Boyle County quarterback wasn’t in much of a talking mood after being benched nine days ago, but he felt much better Friday night after bouncing back with one of the best games of his career.
Whittle threw for a career-high 278 yards and a career-high four touchdowns to lead the Rebels to a 37-21 victory over Dixie Heights at Rebel Stadium. He won his job back in practice last week, and he’ll keep it after a performance that he said will make this a much better weekend than the last one.
“I’m going to sleep a lot better. I’m not going to be so down on myself,” Whittle said. “It was a rough weekend. I wasn’t much up for talking to very many people. I’ll answer the phone now.”
Whittle said he was feeling low after he was replaced in the second quarter of Boyle’s loss to John Hardin. And while he didn’t talk to too many people in the two days that followed, he did hear from a number of teammates.
Among them was Tyler Preston, Boyle’s starting center and Whittle’s best friend, who sent words of encouragement through text messages.
“He texted me, kept checking on me. He knows that I can kind of get down on myself, but he’s always there to take me up in his arms, because he’s not only my center, he’s my best friend. He watches out for me,” Whittle said.
Preston said his texts were designed not only to keep Whittle’s spirits up, but also to prepare him for the battle for the starting position that would take place in practice last week.
“You can’t really teach somebody how to respond to adversity. It’s built into their football DNA,” Preston said. “I was just trying to keep his confidence up and let him know we were all behind him, and to let him know that he was going to have to work his butt off.”
Whittle, a senior, threw touchdown passes of 19 and 88 yards to Josiah Robbins, the freshman who replaced him during the John Hardin game, as well as a 33-yard pass to Seph Burke and a 37-yard pass to Clint Hellyer.
Whittle completed 11 of 20 passes without an interception or a fumble. He also ran for a touchdown, meaning he was directly involved in all five touchdowns for the Rebels (2-3), who had a season-high 431 yards.
“Casey ran the show like he’s capable of doing, and I’m real pleased that he’s made that progress this past week,” Boyle coach Larry French said. “He came back from a little adversity last week and showed what kind of person he is tonight.”
Whittle said the offensive line made things easier for him and the entire offense.
“They picked it up big-time this week,” he said. “If you can’t run the ball, you can’t pass the ball. And obviously we passed the ball well today, so we could open up the running game, and the receivers caught the ball and made big plays for us.”
Hellyer had five receptions for 96 yards, and four other Rebels also caught passes. The Rebels established the run early on behind Burke, who was feared to have a broken collar bone a week earlier, and Lloyd Hall.
Burke and Hall had 13 carries each, with Burke running for 70 yards and Hall getting 50.
Boyle’s defense, which allowed fewer points than it had all season, gave up occasional chunks of yardage but made big plays at other times, including twice when Hall stepped up on fourth down to stop Dixie Heights drives in the red zone in the fourth quarter.
He deflected a pass that was headed for a wide-open receiver in the end zone early in the period, then intercepted a pass with 5:02 remaining that allowed the Rebels to run out the clock.
That was the last of three interceptions thrown by Drew Moore, who was 14 for 30 for 156 yards for the Colonels (1-3). Robbins and Hellyer also picked off passes, and Tre Yeager recovered a fumble.
“We made some nice interceptions, and those were big plays,” French said. “Defensively, I thought we did a lot better. We’re still having trouble tackling in open spaces, and we’ve got to break on the football a little bit better, too.”
Boyle had only one turnover, a fumble in the final minute of the first half that did no harm.
The Rebels did give up a touchdown on a kickoff return just before that fumble that pulled Dixie Heights to within 20-14.
They had scored on their first two series to go up 13-0, then answered the Colonels’ first score by taking a 20-7 lead with 1:03 left in the half, just before Darion Washington’s 88-yard runback.
But Boyle scored twice in the third quarter after the Colonels went three-and-out on their first two series, and Whittle’s 88-yard pass to Robbins made it 37-14 early in the fourth period.
French said there hadn’t truly been a quarterback competition all season until after Whittle was benched, and Whittle said getting the chance to win the job back lit his competitive fire.
“It was a very big wakeup call, because, like the coaches pointed out to me, I really hadn’t earned the spot,” Whittle said. “But competition brings out the best in everybody, and Josiah, he’s a great quarterback, but it made me realize that I need to be out there doing every single thing that I can do, maybe stuff that I wasn’t doing earlier. It was a very big eye-opener for me.
“I think maybe these first four games I had started to get a little arrogant, proud of myself from last year, and this past week kind of humbled me. I broke it all down and I said, ‘God, show me what you want me to do. Let me give everything to you,’ and humbled myself, and I think that’s what let me be able to come back and play like I did.”
Preston said Whittle played Friday as he had practiced all week.
“He looked tremendous,” Preston said. “He threw the ball perfect.”
Dixie Heights 0 14 0 7 — 21
Boyle County 6 14 10 7 — 37
Boyle — Josiah Robbins 19 pass from Casey Whittle (run failed), 6:34.
Boyle — Whittle 2 run (William Harris kick), 10:30.
Dixie Heights — Andrew Hedger 3 pass from Drew Moore (Paul Totten kick), 7:02.
Boyle — Seph Burke 33 pass from Whittle (Harris kick), 1:03.
Dixie Heights — Darion Washington 85 kickoff return (Totten kick), :48.
Boyle — Clint Hellyer 37 pass from Whittle (Harris kick), 9:05.
Boyle — FG Harris 21, 2:34.
Boyle — Robbins 88 pass from Whittle (Harris kick), 10:44.
Dixie Heights — Shawn Brown 17 pass from Moore (Totten kick), 8:45.
First downs 15 19
Rushes-yards 26-101 40-153
Passing 156 278
Total Net Yards 257 431
Comp-Att-Int 14-30-3 11-20-0
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 2-1
Penalties-Yards 9-101 7-55
RUSHING—Dixie Heights, Drew Moore 7-39, Seth Caple 7-37, Joe Radenhausen 5-14, Darion Washington 6-13, team 1-minus 2. Boyle, Seph Burke 13-70, Lloyd Hall 13-50, Casey Whittle 5-22, Aiden Hoskins 5-12, Kyle Kephart 1-0, team 1-0, Josiah Robbins 2-minus 1.
PASSING—Dixie Heights, Moore 14-20-3-156. Boyle, Whittle 11-20-0-278.
RECEIVING—Dixie Heights, Casey Cox 6-68, Andrew Hedger 4-26, Shawn Brown 2-41, Tristan Johnson 1-14, Radenhausen 1-7. Boyle, Clint Hellyer 5-96, Robbins 2-107, Hall 2-30, Burke 1-33, Austin Muntz 1-12.