Henson’s ability to improvise a major factor in East’s offensive success

Morristown East’s Cole Henson (1) runs for a 10-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter of Friday’s Citizen Tribune Kickoff Classic against Morristown West at Burke-Toney Stadium.

Never give up on Cole Henson, because he certainly doesn’t give up.

Facing third down and 30 yards to go early in the second quarter, Henson found himself surrounded by defenders with seemingly nowhere to go.

But Henson rolled left and ran out of the pocket, looking as though he’d take off running. At the last moment, he saw senior Austin Williams free himself launched the ball in his direction.

Having beaten his defender, Williams caught the pass in stride and waltzed into the end zone for a 48-yard touchdown pass.

“Austin did a good job getting open and staying with the play,” East coach Caleb Slover said. “We were looking to the right side, that’s the way the play was called for us. (Morristown West) did a good job disguising the coverage…pass protection broke down and Cole got out of the pocket and was getting ready to take off with it and Austin pops open.”

It was the 20th passing touchdown of Cole’s career, which began when he worked his way into the starting quarterback role as a freshman in 2017.

However, Henson had never been the Hurricanes’ starting quarterback to open the season before.

His stat line didn’t show any rust, thought, as he connected on 14-of-23 passes for 197 yards, which included a 7-of-9 effort in the first half.

“I think Cole has done a good job handling that position, all the pressure and things that come with it,” Slover noted. “He did a good job of keeping plays alive tonight, getting out of the pocket, getting away from people, tucking it running it and getting downfield.”

Henson’s running ability came in handy late in the fourth quarter after West had seemingly put the game out of reach. But a fumble gave East new life in the red zone.

Facing fourth-and-7, Henson couldn’t find anyone open in the end zone but saw enough green in front of him to take off around the left side and into the end zone, cutting West’s lead to 23-19 in the closing seconds before the Trojans recovered the ensuing onside kick.

Henson completed passes to five different receivers on Friday night, finding Trevor Malone 5 times for 82 yards and Williams 4 times for 83. Braxton Dalton, Shaffer Harville and Evan Seals combined for 5 receptions and 36 yards.

“That whole group has bonded together. They’ve really bought in to each other and they all work hard together,” Slover said.

Given the question marks facing the Hurricanes coming into Slover’s head coaching debut at East, that’s a good sign. And Dalton had a 54-yard kickoff return partially negated by a holding penalty in the fourth quarter.

But just as critical as the Hurricanes’ passing attack was the hard-nosed running of Ethan Ledford.

Playing in his first high school game, Ledford took on the starting job in the backfield when East lost senior Jacob Gossett to injury.

The freshman didn’t need long to make an impression, carrying the ball 11 times for 61 yards to lead East on the ground.

“He’s a hard nosed kid,” Slover said of Ledford. “To be a freshman and be able to step up and do the things he did tonight, we’re extremely proud of him. He works hard. He’s a freshman, not the biggest kid but he plays with a lot of heart and plays as fast as he can, very physical.”

But as explosive as East’s offense was, the penalties added up and took a toll as the Hurricanes were flagged 17 times for 140 yards.

On multiple occasions, a penalty wiped out a big play by the Hurricanes. Needless to say, this will be a point of emphasis before East’s trip to Jefferson County in Game 2.

“That’s something we have to do a better job of,” Slover said. “That starts Monday with our technique and getting back to our basics and the things we need to work on to make it better.”