After physically dominating the undefeated Faith Academy Rams for the better part of Friday night’s AISA AAA State Championship game, a string of Ram pass plays left Morgan Academy in a 13-13 tie late in the fourth quarter.
A fired-up Ram defense shut Morgan down on the ensuing possession, but punter Jeremy Smith pinned Faith deep once again.
Facing the long field with nearly three minutes to play, the Rams rolled the dice.
After a short run and an incomplete pass, quarterback Joseph Anderson dropped to throw the ball again.
Anderson fired the ball over the middle, but junior defensive back Eric Pilcher was waiting.
Pilcher picked the pass off near the 30 and scrambled down to the Faith 11-yard line
With 1:35 left on the clock, the Senators were 11 yards away from the state title.
Two runs netted 5 yards, but an option pitch was swallowed up by the Rams defense on third down. Suddenly Smith, who was 1-of-2 on extra points on the night, was called on to win the state title.
With under 10 seconds to go, the ball was snapped and Smith’s 31-yard game-winning field goal try was in the air.
The ball kind of knuckled to the left and sailed low but somehow it went over the cross bar, through the uprights and Morgan had a 16-13 lead with six seconds left in the game.
Lineman Si Gresham agreed, &uot;that field goal was awesome,&uot; he said.
Faith bobbled the ensuing squib kick, Morgan recovered and took the state title, 16-13.
After months and years of hard work, the Senators players finally got to celebrate.
Morgan physically dominated the game from the outset.
Only a pair of Morgan fumbles and a trio of big plays in the passing game allowed the Rams to stay close.
Morgan played defense exceptionally well all night.
Bryce Landwehr, who gouged the Senators’ defense in Faith’s regular season win at Morgan, was held to 11 yards on 12 carries.
Faith ended the night with 38 rushing yards and 19 of those came on a fake punt.
Faith’s passing game racked up 154 yards and two touchdowns.
Josh Donaldson had five catches for 135 yards and a score.
Clay Phillips also added a touchdown catch in traffic.
That was it for the Faith offense.
Morgan’s defense was outstanding.
It seemed like every Senator defender on the field made at least one big play, but none stood out more than Allen Callaway’s.
Smith had punted Faith deep into their own territory with over seven minutes left in the game.
On third and seven, Joseph Anderson dropped to pass.
A loud thud meant the ball and been swatted and Callaway scooped it.
Everyone froze for just a second, looking at the ref standing near the play.
There was no signal and the senior defensive back went into the end zone.
The touchdown gave Morgan a 13-6 lead.
In the confusion, it was hard to tell what really happened.
On offense, the Senators didn’t do anything the easy way.
They pounded Faith with a steady dose of Robert Collins up the middle, mixing in some Josh McAteer on the edges.
Collins led all rushers with 72 yards on 28 carries.
Lyon had 21 yards and a touchdown.
Blanton Callen had 34 yards, McAteer added 29 yards and Blake South had a 10-yard run.
Lyon threw for 5 yards.
On defense, Callen had five tackles and a pair of sacks.
Ben Callaway, Walt Harrison, Johnathan Slagel, South and Robert Armstrong all made big hits.
For Faith, linebacker Jay Joiner had 13 tackles and five assists.
Morgan took the ball first and came out pounding the rock with Lyon and Collins.
They used modest gains to move the chains but the drive stalled inside Faith territory and Smith pinned the Rams at their own 15.
The Rams went nowhere and punted to Smith who returned the ball to the Faith 35.
In prime position, Morgan made their first real mistake of the night. Alex Erobu recovered a fumbled hand-off and the Rams had the ball at their 30.
South stuffed Landwehr and a holding penalty pushed the Rams back.
A short punt gave Morgan the ball at the Faith 42.
Using Collins like a sledgehammer, the Senators pounded their way down to the goal line.
On third-and-five at the 10, Lyon faked a pass and kept the ball around the right corner.
He raced for the pylon and dove.
He was ruled down about an inch from the goal line.
A play later he sneaked into the end zone for the score.
Smith added the extra point and with 11:07 left in the half, Morgan led 7-0.
The Rams offense was stuffed, again and punted to the Morgan 20.
The Senators moved to the Faith 37 before fumbling the ball away.
Faith’s Jacob Moore was Johnny-on-the-spot with the recovery.
Slagel destroyed Landwehr for a loss and a clip moved the Rams back to their own 30.
After being held to 22 yards of offense at that point, the Rams showed why they were the undefeated and top-ranked AISA team in the state.
Anderson sent a pretty spiral deep to Donaldson.
The Morgan defender was just a step behind and seemed to tip the ball, but Donaldson made the grab on the run and sprinted the rest of the 70-yards for the score.
The extra point failed and Morgan had a 7-6 lead.
They went to the half at that score.
Faith got the ball, but they would have just about been better off kicking it away. Harrison hit Landwher for a loss at the 23, then Callen sacked Anderson at the 17.
Callen then dropped Jon Mothershed for no gain and Faith punted.
Morgan moved the sticks a couple of times, then had to punt. Smith’s shot landed near the 15 and rolled dead at the 1-yard line.
Morgan held, but on fourth-and-10 at the 16, James rolled the dice.
Donaldson lined up to punt, but took the snap and raced around the end for 18 yards and a first down.
It was the longest play on the ground all night for the Rams.
Morgan held again, but confusion on fourth down led to an illegal substitution and the 5-yard penalty was enough for another Faith first down.
Callen came through with another sack and a dropped pass on third down forced Faith to finally punt the ball away.
Smith punted it back with 7:39 to play in the game.
On first down at the 17, James tried a little more trickery.
With Anderson leading the way on a sweep to the left, Donaldson took the ball. With just Ben Callaway standing between the pair and a decent gain, it looked like Faith might have a big play.
Callaway stuffed the quarterback blocker back into the runner and tackled both for no gain.
On second down, a quick screen went for a short gain.
On third down, A. Callaway broke through, the ball was knocked from Anderson’s hand and Callaway had the defensive touchdown.
Smith missed the extra point, but with a 13-6 lead, Morgan appeared safe.
The Rams had other plans.
On third-and-six at the 42, Anderson lofted one over the middle for Donaldson.
McAteer was there and appeared to have a sure interception.
McAteer went straight up and Donaldson jumped in, making contact.
The ball ricocheted and the quick-reflexes of Donaldson allowed him to snag it.
He spun up field before being tackled at the 19.
On third-and-six again, Anderson threw to the end zone.
Phillips made the catch in the air, was hit from in front and behind but held on for the score.
The extra point tied the game.
With the momentum in their corner, the Rams held and forced another Smith punt.
Three plays later, Pilcher picked Anderson off and set up the game-winning field goal.