West beats East with touchdown in the game’s final seconds
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DJ Jones stood a few feet away from his team’s postgame huddle Friday night, trying to catch his breath.
West’s senior quarterback waded through a flood of emotions, fighting back tears as a winning smile formed on his face.
“Oh my God. Oh my God,” said Jones, minutes after his diminutive classmate, Jeremiah Johnson, hauled in Jones’ 48-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass with three seconds remaining to give the Pioneers a 20-16 victory over East. “It’s indescribable. I can’t even put it into words.”
The scene at Northwest High provided the best picture. Moments after West coach Weston Schartz congratulated his team on its 2-0 start and its first win over the Blue Aces since 2004, the Pioneers sang the school fight song in full voice. West fans lingered outside the entrance, exchanging high fives with players as they headed for their buses.
They celebrated Johnson’s first reception of the season, which provided an improbable end to a 2 1/2-hour battle that West dominated, then struggled through, then won at the last possible moment.
“The first thing that crossed my mind was my team,” said Johnson, a 5-foot-6 senior. “I mean, I don’t always do the best I can. But I had to bring this in for everybody else. It wasn’t me. It was for my team.”
You wouldn’t expect the end of an eight-game losing streak to a league rival to come easy, and it didn’t for West. The Pioneers dominated the second quarter, but led just 7-6 at halftime. A fumble through the back of the end zone and a missed field goal foiled West’s chances for more points. Then the Pioneers committed three turnovers in the first 5 1/2 minutes of the third quarter, and East cashed in 10 points for a 16-7 lead.
But West’s defense, which forced three turnovers and limited East to 110 yards, provided the spark. Senior Tre’von Mitchell snatched East quarterback Alec Schillings’ only pass of the game near the goal line and raced 96 yards for a touchdown to make it 16-14 with 3:26 to play in the third.
With transfer defensive lineman Mike Rios recovering two fumbles and wreaking havoc on the Aces’ running game, West stayed within reach. Still, things looked bleak for the Pioneers after East’s Joseph Patrick intercepted Jones’ tipped pass and returned it to the East 38 with 2:26 to play.
The Aces, who got two touchdowns from running back Deonta Thomas, tried to run off the remaining time. West did not have a timeout, but got the ball back with 13 seconds remaining after East’s seventh punt of the game sailed out of bounds at the Aces’ 48.
“All we had to do was make a first down, and we win the game,” East coach Brian Byers said. “We didn’t make that first down, and that’s probably what bothers me most.”
Said Jones, who finished 10 of 24 for 121 yards: “I was just thanking God for giving me one more chance to throw that ball.”
Jones set up in the shotgun formation for the play that launched West’s celebration. It wasn’t a call the Pioneers have practiced.
“We’ve never worked on it,” Schartz said. “I just said, ‘Twins left Liz and throw it deep.’”
As Jones launched the pass toward the left side of the end zone, Johnson sprinted alongside Patrick. As the ball approached, Patrick lost his balance and Johnson waited for the ball to descend.
“I just thought, ‘I’ve got to catch this. I’ve got to catch this,’” Johnson said. “I dropped an easy one last week against South, and I had to make it up to my teammates.”
The victory was secure after East’s kickoff return stalled near midfield as the final seconds ran off.
“This was a great win for the (West) community,” Schartz said. “Our defense was outstanding. We didn’t hold on to the ball well. Our playmakers didn’t make plays. But we won.
“I’ve coached 30 years and I’ve never won a game like that.”
E – D. Thomas 21 run (kick failed)
W – Saunders 3 run (Daignault kick)
E – T. Thomas 39 FG
E – D. Thomas 3 run (T. Thomas kick)
W – Mitchell 96 interception return (Daignault kick)
W – Johnson 48 pass from DJ Jones (pass failed)
Rushing – East, D. Thomas 24-81, Calil Burnett 14-41, Hisken 5-5, Edwards 2-(-5), Schillings 3-(-12). West, Mitchell 9-35, Collins 5-20, Saunders 5-15, Reed 4-12, DJ Jones 9-12, Dominick Jones 4-10.
Passing – East, Schillings 0-1-0-1. West, DJ Jones 10-24-121-2.
Receiving – West, Malcolme 3-31, Mitchell 3-28, Reed 3-14, Johnson 1-48.