The Iron Bowl and Brady Hoke came to the Carrier Dome on Sunday.
Not in the flesh, but certainly in spirit.
Unfortunately for the Schalmont Sabres, their spectacular Iron Bowl moment was wiped out by Maine-Endwell’s game-winning Brady Hoke moment.
The football world is still buzzing over Auburn’s incredible win over Alabama on Saturday, on a missed field-goal attempt returned for a touchdown, and to a much lesser degree over Ohio State’s one-point win over Michigan, when Wolverines coach Brady Hoke was thwarted in his decision to go for a two-point conversion at the end of the game.
A reasonable facsimile of both scenarios showed up in the closing minutes of Maine-Endwell’s 22-21 victory over Schalmont, creating as stunning a turn of events as you can imagine in a football game.
That left the Sabres to process something they’ve never experienced this season, and in the most excruciating way … a loss.
The final score reinforced the notion that you can’t afford to let your guard down for even an instant in football. A game can turn on one play, and just as it does, it can turn the other way. After 12 games in which the Sabres were never threatened and outscored opponents, 555-37, they learned that the hard way.
“It happened really fast,” senior running back/linebacker Devon Willis said.
“I’ve never experienced anything like that, and I don’t want to do it again,” said his best friend and fellow senior running back/linebacker, Trevon Perez-Tucker.
Perez-Tucker was smack in the middle of the seismic shift in momentum and emotions in the final minute and a half.
The game chugged along nicely for Schalmont in the first half, when the Sabres capitalized on two fumbles to take a 14-0 lead.
It took until just under six minutes left in the game, but Maine-Endwell finally clawed its way back to a 14-14 tie, and the way things were going, the game looked like it was headed to overtime.
With the seconds ticking down, Perez-Tucker caught a Maine-Endwell punt at the 42 with no intention other than to get a few yards and afford his offense potentially game-winning field position.
He did better than that.
Breaking out of what appeared to be a sure tackle at midfield, Perez-Tucker found running room toward the left sideline, and much like Auburn’s Chris Davis, he was able to skirt the white paint all the way down to the end zone to give Schalmont a 21-14 lead with 1:28 left.
“I really wasn’t thinking about scoring, I was just thinking about getting some yardage,” Perez-Tucker said. “After going through two defenders and cutting back, there was just field.
“Just open field.”
Nick Gallo demolished Maine-Endwell’s kick returner at the 25, leaping to his feet and pumping his fists in front of him. At that point, the Sabres were in great shape, needing simply to rely on their lightning-fast defense to keep the Spartans from getting all the way down field.
Game over, right?
A defense that begrudgingly gave up two yards here, three yards there, suddenly found itself in the uncharacteristic position of getting ripped left and right for big chunks that got Maine-Endwell down to a first-and-goal at the three-yard line with 25 seconds left.
On second down with 18 seconds left, Darnell Woolfolk cut to the left looking for a hole, and Perez-Tucker snuck through, dove and got his foot, desperately hanging on for dear life until help arrived.
Third down, four yards, nine seconds … with only the state championship at stake.
Quarterback Kyle Gallagher found Jake Sinicki in the middle of the end zone to make it 21-20 with four seconds left.
Enter Maine-Endwell head coach Matt Gallagher, playing the part of Brady Hoke.
He could’ve gone for the easy kick to tie it.
He did better than that.
Maine-Endwell chose to end the game one way or the other right there.
Kyle Gallagher took the snap, looked left to find his receiver well covered in the end zone, stepped up in the pocket and to his right, and there was Woolfolk all by himself in the flat for the easiest play of the day, at absolutely the worst time for Schalmont.
“Our defense was giving its all, and I guess we couldn’t account for one guy, and they got the two-point conversion,” Perez-Tucker said.
“We got real happy [after the punt return for a touchdown],” Willis said. “I think we kind of lost our focus, and that led to the big scoring drive. I was not surprised they scored. They’re a good program. You’ve got to go big or go home.
“Seeing them go for two and getting it just broke our hearts.
Shattered, the Schalmont players collapsed on the field.
After one more play from their own 20 that never had a chance of going anywhere, they collapsed again.
Gallo might still be sitting there on the Carrier Dome turf today, dazed, with his helmet off, if he hadn’t been helped to his feet.
Hollow-eyed, Willis stood before the cameras.
The only holdover from Schalmont’s 2010 team that made it to the Dome and was crushed, 50-20, he chose not to differentiate between a smothering like that and the one that they seemed to have in the bag on Sunday.
“It still hurts either way. Just losing isn’t a good feeling.”