Last-second TD gives Morgan win

Published 1:38 am Saturday, November 7, 2009

SELMA — Tied 13-13 and facing 66 yards for a touchdown with 74 seconds to play, Morgan Academy coach Brian King was thinking about overtime.

Three plays later, the Senators were on the Macon-East 17-yard line with 21 seconds to play. King’s mind changed.

“Honestly, I was thinking about overtime,” King said while sitting in the weight room after the game. “When that play worked like that, I thought about winning.”

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“That play” was a screen pass that turned into a halfback pass.

Quarterback Austin Smitherman tossed a screen pass to running back Joseph Watters, who passed to running back Cody Wheat 33 yards to the Macon-East 16 with 21 seconds to play. After Smitherman was stuffed for a 1-yard loss, he connected with Watters on a 17-yard fade route on the left sideline and scored the winning touchdown.

Morgan Academy 19, Macon-East 13.

The do-or-die playoff season continues for Morgan in AISA Class AAA next week when Pike Liberal Arts returns to Selma. Pike Lib edged the Senators 13-6 in the season opener for both teams.

Things have changed.

King said he has seen his team improve every game this season.

“You can’t ask them to play any harder,” he said. “They bend and don’t break. We’ve been outmatched in every game, and we find a way to play through it.”

Smitherman has been the leader of the team’s improvement, King said.

The junior quarterback, who came out favoring rushing over passing, accounted for 30 of the team’s 87 yards in the first-quarter scoring drive. Wheat went the final two yards over left tackle to end the eight-play drive. Lanny Harrison kicked the PAT and Morgan led 7-0.

The Senators then stopped Macon-East’s next two drives. On the first one, sophomore Crawford Traylor tipped away a fourth-and-26 pass on a fake punt. Then the M-E Knights punted away on fourth down.

But Macon-East receiver J.D. Owings got behind the Morgan defense for a 31-yard TD pass from Craig Granger with 34 seconds until halftime. Jimbo Turk’s PAT kick tied the halftime score at 7-all.

Macon-East’s opening drive of the third quarter went 48 yards to the Morgan 10 before the Senators defense stiffened and forced the Knights’ Jimmy Kyser to attempt a 38-yard field goal. The football bounced back off the crossbar.

Neither team gained an advantage until early in the fourth quarter when Macon-East quarterback Granger pulled up on a run around left end, drawing the Morgan defender in. He then lofted a 33-yard scoring toss to John Michael Higgins with 6:57 to play. The PAT kick was blocked, and the Knights’ lead was 13-7.

The Senators, however, returned to score the tying touchdown behind a modified “hook and ladder” trick play when the pass receiver laterals the ball to a trailing teammate. Except in Morgan’s case, the play turned into a pass-option.

The Senators mounted a five-play, 62-yard drive that was sparked by Smitherman’s play. He threw a pass on the right flat to Brantley, who turned around to gain extra yardage. As he was going to the ground on the tackle, he pitched out to Watters on the right sideline. The play gained 33 yards to the Macon-East 29.

Then Smitherman took over: seven yards over left tackle, a 14-yard pass to Reid Fondren and finally the nine yards over the middle, stretching the ball over the goal line to tie the game 13-13. Harrison’s extra-point kick went wide left, leaving the score tied.

“(Smitherman) took the reins in the fourth quarter and did what a leader was supposed to do,” King said. “He really stepped up for us tonight.”

Smitherman finished with 9-of-11 pass completions for 188 yards and 60 yards rushing. He accounted for 248 yards in a total offense of 297 yards.

Fondren also received plaudits from King.

“Fondren was always there,” he said. “He makes the plays when we need them most.”

Fondren collected nine tackles on the night, while Frankie Wilbourne led Morgan with 10 tackles.

On Macon’s last chance for a sustained drive, the Knight marched down 45 yards to the Morgan 24, forcing another field-goal try with 1:14 to play. The 45-yard attempt was blocked, and the Senators took over on their own 34 to begin the fateful scoring drive.

Morgan’s record going into the Pike Liberal game is 7-4, while Macon-East ended the year 8-3.