The emphasis on special teams was never more apparent than late in the fourth quarter on Friday, Oct. 15 when Seminole Ridge High School played Sebastian River High School at Callery-Judge Stadium.
With 1:06 left in the fourth quarter, and the ball sitting on Sebastian River’s 20-yard line, the game’s final outcome rested on the shoulders and right leg of Seminole Ridge senior placekicker Hayden Gray, who was prepared for the pressure of a late-game field goal. “I was ready to make the kick,” Gray said.
The game was tied 14-14 and had remained tied since late in the second quarter. When play resumed after a Seminole Ridge timeout, Gray lined up for a go-ahead and potential game-winning 37-yard field goal.
Five seconds after the ball was snapped, placed and kicked, the football split the uprights. The kick was good. It would have been good from nearly 50 yards. The game clock read 1:01, and the Hawks had just taken their first lead of the game, 17-14, courtesy of Gray’s kick.
“I was ready for it, and it felt great after it left my foot,” Gray said. “I knew it was good. I had kicked well in practice this past week.”
That 37-yard effort was Gray’s longest field goal this season.
The key play that led to the Hawks’ game-winning scoring drive was a fumble recovery by Seminole Ridge’s Leonard Sylvester with 6:33 left in the game when he fell on a Sharks’ fumble at the Hawks’ 44-yard line.
Less than a minute later, Sebastian River had marched quickly down the field and was in a position to tie the game and send it to overtime. With seven seconds to go in the game, Sebastian River kicker Dominic Fullington lined up for a game-tying 40-yard field goal. A successfully executed kick would have sent the game to overtime. A missed kick would give victory to the Hawks. After the ball was snapped, placed and kicked, it was high enough and long enough, but it was not accurate enough. The football struck the right upright and fell harmlessly to the ground. The kick was no good.
Seminole Ridge Athletic Director Scott Parks was standing behind the goal posts. He was surprised by the miss. “It looked good all the way, until it hit the upright,” Parks said.
A thrilled Hawks team rushed the field to celebrate a come-from-behind win. With the victory, Seminole Ridge improved its season record to 6-1, while Sebastian River fell to 1-4.
“It was a hard-fought game between two good teams,” Seminole Ridge head coach Rick Casko said. “They scored the first 14 points, and we scored the last 17 points.”
In the game, the Sharks opened play like a team on a mission to win. The Sharks scored touchdowns on their first two possessions to take an early 14-0 lead. The Sharks scored at the 6:08 mark of the first quarter when quarterback Ian Snow threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Justice Wright. That scoring toss capped an 11-play, 62-yard drive. The key play on the drive was a fake punt/flea flicker play when Cedric Stuckey Jr. threw a 20-yard pass completion to Jonathan Tumblin on fourth-and-10. The extra point kick was blocked, and the Sharks led 6-0.
After a Hawks punt, Snow led the Sharks for another score. It was a short, four-play, 25-yard drive for another touchdown, capped by a nine-yard pass from Snow to Jadis Williams at the 2:36 mark of the first quarter. The Sharks successfully converted a two-point conversion when Snow connected with Trevor Welsh on a short pass to give the Sharks the early 14-0 lead.
On their first possession of the second quarter, the Hawks finally got on the scoreboard. At the 8:41 mark of the second quarter, Seminole Ridge running back Sebastien Christian sprinted around the right side of the line for 39 yards to the end zone. Christian’s touchdown run concluded a six-play, 76-yard scoring drive. Gray’s successful kick cut the Sharks’ lead in half, 14-7.
On the fourth play of their next possession, Snow was intercepted by Seminole Ridge’s Evan Jackson. Eight plays later, Seminole Ridge quarterback Will Rimes ran left and then cut back to the right for a 13-yard touchdown run. Gray’s kick tied the score at 14-14.
The score at halftime was 14-14. Neither team scored a point in the third quarter. The game remained tied in the fourth quarter until Gray’s game-winning field goal.
In the game, Christian led the Hawks in rushing with 129 yards.
The Hawks’ next game is at home on Thursday, Oct. 21 when they host the Park Vista High School Cobras at Callery-Judge Stadium. The kickoff is slated for 6:30 p.m.