SYCAMORE - After back-to-back 300-yard rushing games, Mohawk back Gunnar Johnson has earned a plethora of nicknames. Johnson said his favorite is "Gunsmoke." Which is appropriate because a cloud a smoke is sometimes all that can be seen of the Midland Athletic League's leading rusher as he sprints past defenses.
But Friday night, the smoke was more representative of a cannon-arm, as he rocketed a 21-yard touchdown pass to Mitch Parker to break a 21-21 tie with Seneca East with 45.3 seconds left.
Normally that would be enough to send the Warrior faithful home with a happy homecoming victory. But 45 seconds was plenty of time for Ethan Caudill and Seneca East to answer.
Passes of 22 and 12 yards to Alex Scheiber and Cory Depinet got the Tigers in striking range. Caudill then connected with Adam Hall for a 28-yard touchdown, it was the third scoring strike the two connected on in a six-minute span in the fourth quarter.
With only 10 seconds left, overtime looked in the cards, but the Seneca East's extra point bounced off the crossbar and the homecoming celebration begun on the home sideline.
Parker returned the ensuing onside kick 41 yards for a touchdown to seal a 34-27 Warrior win.
"So many emotions were going through my head, I can't even explain it," Parker said. "It was a roller coaster of emotions tonight. Up and down, tied game. It was just close all around."
It was a doubly special night for Mohawk fullback Eric Maskey who was crowned homecoming king before the game. His crown must've doubled as a battering-ram, as he plowed through the Tiger defense for 137 yards on 18 carries.
His third touchdown of the night, a 32-yard scamper, gave Mohawk a 21-7 lead with a little under eight minutes left to play.
"Words can't even describe how I feel right now," King Maskey said. "These last two years we've faced a lot of adversity and had problems coming out the second half and finishing games. I was in there, tears of joy. Right now I can't even describe it."
But two Caudill-to-Hall touchdowns evened things up with 1:56 to play.
"It seemed like they were trying to take it from us a couple times but our guys found a way," Mohawk coach Erik Baker said. "It's gratifying. We've had a couple years where things went the other way, and for our guys to rise to the occasion and never quit, that's why you go into coaching for nights like tonight."
Runs of 11 and 21 yards from Johnson got Mohawk close. After two more runs, Baker decided to go for the win.
"We've been pounding it, pounding it, pounding it. And we felt once they abandoned having a free safety and brought him up played him at linebacker and vacated the middle of the field, we had two downs to get a yard, let's take a shot. I told Gunnar 'If it's not wide open, run it and get your yard. If you don't think you can run it throw it out of bounds. We'll work on fourth down.' He and Mitch, it's something to watch them in practice. That's exactly how they do it. They, like, sight-read each other. Its very exciting."
Parker said the play didn't work as planned, but he made an adjustment on his route and Johnson found him.
"I was hoping the DB would bite up on the run but he was staying with me so I cut across the field," Parker said. "I didn't know if (Johnson) would be able to see me. But he saw me and he lobbed it up for me and I went up and got it."
"He was open when he cut to the middle of the field and I threw it," Johnson added. "It was perfect. Perfect catch, perfect pass. I thank God, thank my offensive line, my coaches. Everything."
The contrast to the jubilation of the Mohawk team and fans was the frustration in the Seneca East locker room after a heart-breaking loss.
"To be down like we were, and really struggle to move the ball at times throughout the game and have them be up a couple touchdowns, and I knew we had a chance," Seneca East coach Ed Phillips said. "I thought we could tie this thing 21-21 take it to overtime, 'cause I know that we're capable of quick strike stuff like that. Then in about five minutes we put 21 points on the board and to be standing here and not have the win after that last five minutes and the way our kids fought and clawed, I still don't know what to say to them. Because, I want to say something to them, but there's nothing I could say to them to make it alright. They had a chance to win that game and I think deserved to win at the end and it's not our win."
Johnson matched Maskey's rushing total with 137 yards, part of a 350-yard rushing night for the Warriors.
"The kind of defense they run, that UFO where they jump around like that, that's tough to defend against because they're all over the place, they're hard to block," Maskey said. "But the offensive line did a great job of making the holes. I just come in there blow it up make it bigger and hope Gunnar can get through there and go to score."
For Seneca East, Ethan Caudill threw for 267 yards and three touchdowns. Hall caught six passes for 123 yards and three scores. Five of his catches came in the final eight minutes.
"The way our seniors fought and some of the plays that Ethan and Cory and Alex and Adam made, it's like when we're little kids and we see those Alcoa Fantastic Finishes on TV 20 years ago," Phillips said. "I thought this is it. I thought this is that fantastic finish that ESPN should be showing next week. And then it just slipped away."