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WEST FORK — Nate Henderson is considered the leader on Paris’ defensive unit, and for good reason.

The junior defensive back returned a fumble for a touchdown and made a key tackle to stop another as the Eagles remained unbeaten with a 20-7 nonconference victory Friday night over previously unbeaten West Fork.

“When you look at him, you think Nate’s a little guy,” Paris coach Tyler Clark said. “But he gets after you. I’m really proud of him — and the whole team. They do a great job.”

West Fork (2-1) already had a couple of bad exchanges on pitch plays, and the third one eventually sealed the Tigers’ fate. Quarterback Eli Howerton was trying to get the ball to Wyett Kutz on a sweep, but it fell to the ground right at Henderson’s feet.

[Don't see the video above? Click here to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHMNTu9mft8]

Henderson then picked up the loose ball and raced 35 yards untouched for the score, and James Yang’s extra point gave the Eagles a 14-7 lead with 4 minutes, 57 seconds left in the first half.

“I just came around the corner, and I saw the ball,” Henderson said. “I just said ‘Go.’ I picked the ball up and ran, and the only thing running through my mind was there was somebody behind me. I just kept running.”

The score remained that way, thanks to Henderson’s heroics in the third quarter after West Fork recovered a muffed punt on the Eagles’ 16. The Tigers then drove to the 8 before they elected to put the ball in the hands of burly fullback Brenan Cash on a fourth-and-2 play.

Henderson, despite a noticeable size disadvantage, wrapped up Cash and dropped him in West Fork’s backfield for a 3-yard loss.

“We just struggled in the end zone,” Tigers coach Justin Smith said. “We had success getting the ball down here and had four red-zone trips. We didn’t come away with points on them, and in high school football that hurts you. You have to be able to convert on big-money downs.”

Paris then added to its lead in the fourth quarter after a questionable turn of events. Quarterback Chase Watts made a diving recovery of his fumble after he was sacked, then the officials ruled that West Fork had possession of the ball and turned the play into another first-and-10 for the Eagles instead of a second-and-20.

Watts, who scored Paris’ first touchdown on a 2-yard keeper, did it again eight plays later and gave the Eagles a 20-7 cushion with 9:07 remaining.

“We were fortunate to get out of here with a win,” Clark said. “Our kids fight, scratch and claw and do everything we ask them to do. I couldn’t be more proud of our kids.”

West Fork took a 7-0 lead on Cash’s 7-yard run with 8:28 before halftime, but the Tigers drove inside the Paris 20 following Henderson’s touchdown before they fumbled the ball away a second time. West Fork also drove inside the Eagles 20 on their last possession before the drive stalled on a fourth-down incomplete pass.

FOUR DOWNS

• It was Senior Night as West Fork honored its seniors in all fall sports.

• The win gives Paris its first 3-0 start since 2011, when the Eagles defeated Green Forest, Waldron and Heavener, Okla., in nonconference games.

• West Fork defensive back Colby Smith made the unlikely interception in the third quarter while he was on his back as the ball went off the hands of a Paris receiver and fell on his chest.

• Both teams will have an open date next week. West Fork will begin 3A-1 Conference play Sept. 25 with a home game against Mansfield, while Paris hosts Mayflower to begin 3A-4 Conference action.

PARIS 20, WEST FORK 7

Paris.................0 14 0 6 — 20 West Fork...........0 7 0 0 — 7 Second Quarter

West — Cash 7 run (Baldwin kick), 8:28. Paris — Watts 2 run (Yang kick), 6:06. Paris — Henderson 35 fumble return (Yang kick), 4:57.

Fourth Quarter

Paris — Watts 2 run (kick fail), 9:07.

Henry Apple can be reached at happle@nwadg.com or on Twitter @NWAHenry.

This story was originally published at 7:30 a.m.

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