BASCOM - Midway through a wild third quarter between Seneca East and Hopewell-Loudon, Seneca County Radio play-by-play announcer Frank Barber came back from a break saying, "Well, let's see what happens next."
The first six minutes of the quarter had already seen a safety, a 61-yard touchdown run, a personal foul on a coach and a kickoff return for a touchdown. It all added up to Seneca East jumping in front of the Chieftains 28-27.
What happened next was an even wilder finish to the night.
After Seneca East tacked on another score to go up 35-27, Hopewell-Loudon was down to its final chance taking over on its own 16 with no timeouts and 1:25 on the clock.
Behind a pair of seniors playing in their final game in Chieftain Stadium, H-L began to march. Alec Gregg completed passes of 17 and 21 yards to Mark Bouillon, setting up the Chieftains on the Seneca East 9 with 16.2 seconds to go.
Gregg once again connected with Bouillon, but Lantz Bohrer, Jordan Bowerman and Cale Felter combined to stop Bouillon on the 2-yard line. The Chieftains hurried to the line to try to get off one more play, but the clock hit all zeros, sending off an eruption of joy on the Seneca East sideline.
"We ran out of time," Hopewell-Loudon coach Jeremy Nutter said. "Really, we had talked about the ball needing to go in the end zone. Alec saw Mark check down and he was open in the middle of the field. I don't know how close we were, but we were down there pretty close. He thought he'd give us an opportunity to get to our best player, see if we could get it in. He didn't get it in. We would've like to see the ball spotted a little faster, but the referees do the best job they can."
"Our defense came up in the clutch," Bohrer said. "We had our backs against the wall. We played great all night long. The whole third and fourth quarter except for one drive was phenomenal. Our defense played great, always do. It's all about the team."
For Seneca East, the victory ended a decade of despair against Hopewell-Loudon. Not since 2000 had the Tigers topped the Chieftains.
"This is the biggest win I've ever been apart of," Tiger coach Ed Phillips said. "I told the guys last night, just as a symbolic thing I said 'hey, whoever's beaten them in your high school career stand up.' And none of them did. Then I asked them all to stand up, I said, 'because we're going to win.'"
"Ever since I can remember even being a little kid watching Jake Mahl play, we haven't beat them," Seneca East's Jordan Phillips added. "We had some good teams back when I was a little kid. For us to be the first team, its breathtaking."
On a night of big plays, Phillips turned in some of the biggest. His team entered the second half trailing 21-14, but got two points closer when a bad snap on a Hopewell-Loudon punt went through the end zone. Three plays after receiving the free kick, Phillips was on the receiving end of an Ethan Caudill pass that turned into a 37-yard touchdown, the second scoring connection on the night for the two. It gave Seneca East its first lead of the night at 22-21.
Not to be outdone, Hopewell-Loudon answered when Cody Malone ran around the right end for a 61-yard touchdown run, putting the Chieftains back in front 27-21.
On the two-point conversion try, Gregg's pass was knocked down in the end zone. Many of the Chieftain faithful hoped to see a pass interference call, but no flag was thrown.
That was until Nutter had some words for the referee, leading to a 15-yard personal foul on the coach, assessed on the kickoff.
Jordan Phillips took the opportunity to tilt the game back in his team's favor. Fielding the kickoff at his own 36, he shot through a hole in the H-L coverage team, got one final block on the kicker and raced to the end zone.
"Coach Phillips has a really good scheme for kick returns," he said. "We had a lot of blocks and it was just me, a blocker and one defender. I just followed my blocking all the way."
"Jordan Phillips had the night of his life," coach Phillips added. "And he deserves it, because that kid, since I've been here, hasn't missed a day. And he loves football and he loves Seneca East and he loves to win. He's a heck of an athlete and a heck of a player. So for him to make the plays he did tonight, I couldn't be happier for anyone."
Nutter expressed regret over the penalty, but said his team should've been able to make a tackle.
"Quite frankly I'm a little bit disappointed in myself for putting our football team in that situation, but regardless, we kicked the ball off and we got to make a tackle and we didn't do that," he said. "We had some momentum there and let it slip away."
Hopewell-Loudon came out on its senior night firing on all cylinders. Gregg and Bouillon each found the end zone for an early 14-0 lead.
Seneca East finally got its offense going and Jared Walker put the Tigers on the board with a 2-yard run. Hopewell-Loudon responded with a 27-yard scoring run from Bouillon, but the Tigers tacked on one more score before the half off a 7-yard Caudill scoring toss to Phillips.
"We started off slow, then our defense really kept us in the game," Caudill said. "We had some good offensive plays. Jared and Jordan made some good runs, nice long runs for us. We were able to punch it in, just hang with them, as the game went on, take over."
The final Tiger score came when Caudill engineered a 13-play, 70-yard scoring drive that ate up more than 5 minutes of the fourth quarter. Facing third-and-goal from the 14, Caudill hit Kevin Moore for a touchdown.
"Our theme for the week was 'keep going,'" coach Phillips said. "We've done that all year. Certainly in the first half when were down 14-0, that phrase went through my head. Keep going, keep going. And our kids did. ... They went out a beat a really good football team, but they did it under some adverse situations, ... and never stopped believing, and I'm just so proud of them."