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Last second field goal boots GCHS from playoffs
By RUSSELL TURNER
The Greene County Wildcats’ incredible run from winless through the first three weeks of the season to regional champs with an eye on a shot at a state title ended in heartbreaking fashion Friday night in Monticello.
Leading by a touchdown through three quarters of play, the Wildcats gave up 10 unanswered points in the final quarter of the second round playoff game to fall 17-14 to Lawrence County. In a game full of big plays, the biggest of all was a 34-yard field goal as time expired by a player who had never even kicked an extra point prior to Friday’s kickoff.
“It’s football and the ball bounces in funny ways sometimes,” GCHS Head Coach Mike King said of the loss. “We were on the road in a tough environment and had some penalties that really hurt us and some crucial injuries that kids were trying to fight through.”
“It just wasn’t our night, but give Lawrence County credit, they played hard and came out on top.”
The Wildcats did have opportunities, but came up just short on several occasions. On the flip side, the Cougars seemed to be on the other end of that equation, getting one big play after another when the game was on the line.
One of the first came late in the first quarter. A 49-yard touchdown run by GCHS senior quarterback Drake Henderson on the third play of the game gave the Wildcats an early 7-0 lead. GCHS was deep in Lawrence County territory and threatening to add to the lead when the Cougar defense sacked Henderson all the way back at midfield to force a turnover on downs. Three plays later, senior Perez Tyler burst free for a 48-yard TD run and junior Tae Cole tied the game with his first career PAT with 11:50 left in the first half.
After trading a few punts, GCHS had a chance to go back on top before halftime, but Henderson’s deep pass to freshman K.J. Miller was completed just short of the endzone and the Cats were unable to get off another play before time expired in the second quarter.
“We missed a few big opportunities,” King said. “We got the play we wanted at the end of the first half, but were stopped just short of the goal line and didn’t have a timeout to be able to stop the clock.”
Early in the third quarter, another opportunity slipped through the Wildcats’ fingers. A fumble recovery by sophomore Jeremiah Cochran gave GCHS possession at the Lawrence County 25-yard-line. The Cats couldn’t convert a first down, however, and senior Jacob Mitchell’s 24-yard field goal attempt was off the mark.
The Wildcats were able to take advantage of the Cougars’ next mistake. After a big defensive stand by GCHS, a bad snap on the punt resulted with Greene County taking over at the Cougar 16-yard-line. Henderson carried down to the Lawrence County 8-yard-line, but was injured on the play. After a stuffed run and an incomplete pass, sophomore backup quarterback Conner West made the play of his career, avoiding pressure in the backfield long enough to find classmate Cameron Dunnam in the endzone for an 8-yard touchdown completion. Sophomore Brayden Brewer’s PAT gave GCHS a 14-7 lead with 3:07 remaining in the third quarter.
The two teams swapped punts again to start the fourth quarter, but the Wildcats kick came from near their own endzone, giving the Cougars great field position at the GCHS 44. It looked like the Wildcat defense had squashed the hopes of the Cougars with a big fourth down stop, but senior Perez Tyler somehow managed to get the football to senior Antwan Pittman as he was being taken to the ground, and Pittman was able to stay on his feet and earn a first down to keep the drive alive.
Junior Quincy Lewis broke free for a 10-yard touchdown run moments later and Cole tied the game at 14-14 with his second PAT with 5:41 left to play.
GCHS drove into Cougar territory, but a holding call negated a big first-down reception by Dunnam and forced the Cats to punt. A good kick pinned the Cougars down at their own 6-yard-line with three minutes left on the clock. With time running down, Lewis came up with a nice run across midfield that was accompanied by a 15-yard facemasking penalty. The Cougars pushed the ball to GCHS 27, before calling their final timeout with three seconds to play. Cole’s kick sailed through the uprights with plenty of room to spare as time ran off the clock.
The kick set off a wild celebration on the other end of the field by the Cougars and left the Wildcats with thoughts of what could have been.
“You know, I am proud of this team,” King said Monday after having a few days to reflect on the season. “We are disappointed, obviously, but even though we didn’t make it as far as we believe we should have, I know the program took a step forward this year by winning the region championship.”
“That is a pretty big accomplishment and is something for this program to build on. We will take a few days to meet with the players and then we will get back to work with our sights set on next season.”
The Wildcats finished the season with a record of 8-4, while Lawrence County improved to 8-5 and will take on Newton County this week with a chance to play for a south state championship on the line.