WISE, Va. – Buster Henderson played in his 40th career game for the University of Virginia’s College at Wise on Saturday, but the linebacker admitted this one was different from all the rest.
There was the emotion of Senior Day festivities in which Henderson and six of his teammates took part.
There was the anxiety of a back-and-forth football game that wasn’t decided until the final seconds.
There was the exhilaration that came with clinching a much-needed victory.
Yep, this occasion was certainly special.
“People always say every game is the same,” Henderson said. “I’m not going to lie, but this game had a little extra. It was my last home game and we all played for each other. We went out there and gave it our all.”
Henderson had the best game of his collegiate career in his final game at Carl Smith Stadium as UVa-Wise collected a 21-14 South Atlantic Conference triumph over the Catawba Indians.
The Highland Cavaliers (2-8, 1-7) snapped an eight-game losing streak by winning the first SAC game in program history. It was actually the first South Atlantic Conference victory in any sport at the school and was highlighted by a dominant defensive effort.
Henderson had a team-high 12 tackles and five of those occurred behind the line of scrimmage.
Marcus Tarrer’s 10 tackles, two sacks from defensive lineman Chavon Fields and interceptions by A.J. Felton Jr. and Logan Jenkins were pivotal as well.
Catawba (1-9, 0-7) finished with just 197 yards of total offense and committed three turnovers.
“I thought defensively we were lights out,” said UVa-Wise coach Dane Damron.
Trailing 14-7, UVa-Wise pulled even on Lendon Redwine’s touchdown pass to Jamal Fisher with 5:38 remaining in the third quarter.
On Catawba’s next possession, quarterback Kaylon Wade was sacked by Fields and Michael Rowser recovered the loose ball. It was a productive day for Fields, a 6-foot-1, 280-pound sophomore who once starred at Huguenot High School in Richmond, Virginia.
“The kid is as hard of a worker as we’ve got,” Damron said. “He’s a leader and he’s one that I challenged this week to step up and take control of the football team, because when we start next season he’s going to be one we’re looking at [to lead the team]. He does everything we ask of him and by the time he graduates from here, everybody in this league is going to know his name.”
Three plays after Fields forced the fumble, Mykael Anderson scored on a 9-yard touchdown run to give the Cavs to the lead for good with 3:16 remaining in the third quarter.
The defense did the rest.
Catawba reached UVa-Wise 20-yard line on its final possession with less than 30 seconds remaining, but Wade’s final pass fell incomplete.
“A relief,” Henderson said. “I was just happy. You don’t know how grateful I am for this, man.”
Everybody was happy for Henderson, who is probably the most popular player in the locker room. A friendly guy who starred at Appomattox High School in Virginia, Henderson is the epitome of the term team leader.
“He’s a tremendous leader,” said Redwine, the freshman QB. “He’s one of the guys that’s always talking to me and trying to get me calmed down from the freshman jitters.”
Henderson also stayed positive despite the losses that kept mounting. That couldn’t be easy for a guy who was on a VHSL state championship team in high school.
“Coach always tells us to just to play the next one,” Henderson said. “The games we’ve lost, it’s over now and in the past. Coach always tells us to just worry about the next game. This whole year we haven’t held our heads, we’ve came to practice and got ready for the next one.”
A road game at UNC Pembroke next week is all that remains for the Cavs in 2019.
“I’m definitely trying to go out with a bang,” Fields said. “If we play next week like we played today, we’re definitely going to do it. No doubt about it.”
On Saturday, UVa-Wise was able to celebrate a win for the first time since Sept. 7.
“I like where we’re going,” Damron said. “This is a tough league and we’ve got tough kids. We’re going to show up next week at Pembroke and play our butts off because that’s what this group does. After that, we’re going to hit the recruiting trail and supplement the kids we’ve got. We’re going to come back and rock-and-roll. I am proud of the mental toughness this group has. It would be great to sit here and be 10-and-0, but I’ll take where we’re at with this group of guys right now. I love them and I’d fight tooth-and-nail for them.”