CAREY - All Jared Wentling knew was that he had blown his tackle and he needed to recover.
The Carey safety missed tackling Seneca East's Cory Depinet and needed to get back into the play.
When he did, there was the ball, laying on the ground larger than life.
"I missed a tackle and I went to go back toward the ball and I saw it on the ground and just jumped on it," Wentling said. "I'd have done anything to get that ball."
And when Wentling came up with it, all was forgotten as the Carey sideline nearly rushed the field.
The turnover led to a go-ahead touchdown for the Blue Devils with 3:23 to go as Carey won, 27-26, to clinch a share of the final football crown in Midland Athletic League history.
The Blue Devils (7-3, 6-1 MAL) share the title with Calvert, the lone team it lost to in league play.
"It's something that nobody can take away from them," Carey coach Todd Worst said of his team winning the title. "We've had some teams with better records but they earned a piece of the MAL championship and there were teams that better records and weren't able to do that. So they've earned their place."
Senior Anthony Blair was consoled on the field by his teammates as he sobbed on the field while time expired.
"It means a lot (to win the league). We've been saying since January that we want the MAL," Blair said. "When you start the beginning of the season, you know it's a long shot but we finally got it and it feels awesome."
He was not alone as many of the Carey seniors could be found with the remnants of salty tears after the emotional win.
But they were almost tears of a different kind.
Seneca East, which took the lead into halftime, 20-14, thanks to an 8-yard quarterback keeper by Ethan Caudill with 6.4 seconds to go.
It remained that way until nearly midway through the fourth when Seneca East (5-5, 3-4) switched from its punishing air assault to an effective ground game to salt the clock away. The Tigers went 50 yards in seven plays and had Alex Scheiber punch it in from 8 yards away to give Seneca East a commanding 26-14 lead with 7:55 to go in the game.
"It made me feel pretty good but I watched this team score 54 points last week so I knew what they were capable of," Seneca East coach Ed Phillips said.
And like Seneca East going away from where its bread is buttered, Carey did the same. On the ensuing drive, Carey went to the air on four of its six plays as the Blue Devils wasted little time in moving 65 yards. When Holsinger dove in from a yard out to cut the lead to 26-21, there was still 6:17 left to go in the game.
On the second play of Seneca East's next possession, Caudill connected with Depinet on a quick slant for nearly 20 yards before a tackle jarred the ball loose and Wentling came up with it on the Seneca East 42 with 5:15 to go.
A surge of cheers came from the Carey faithful and the players celebrated like they had won the Super Bowl.
"I could feel that. I just knew with that momentum change we were going to get in the end zone," Wentling said.
Blair said the momentum swing was monumental.
"It was a great feeling. It's like that feeling in a movie when it all comes together," Blair said. "It finally happened and we had a chance at (winning it). It was awesome seeing the crowd go nuts."
Phillips said the play could have gone in a completely different direction.
"The heartbreaker about that one is that (Depinet's) right there and we know how good he is. He's like a shoelace away from really putting the nail in the coffin and the ball pops out," Phillips said. "That's what this game teaches you. It teaches you to keep fighting."
But Carey was not done. It was back to the basics for the Blue Devils as they went to the ground again. On the fourth play from scrimmage, Holsinger busted some tackles and juked his way out of another as he ran 27 yards to pay dirt. The two-point conversion failed but Carey still led, 27-26.
"We needed something to jump start us and that was that fumble there," Worst said. "It comes down to guys making some plays and luckily we made just enough at the right time."
Despite stalling Seneca East three times in the red zone that night, the Blue Devils defense needed to show up once more.
"I was worried. I was really worried," Worst said of the previous red zone opportunities. "But luckily we came up with just enough plays at the right time to pull it out at the end."
On fourth-and-10 from the Tigers 32, Caudill went downfield but Abel La Roche jumped the route and snared the interception at the Carey 43.
"Coach (Jonathon Mershman) always talks about bend, don't break. I think tonight we did a lot of bend not break. We bent a lot," Blair said. "We got to the 20-yard line (a few times) but we came back and stopped them. I think that's what helped us win the game. Defense wins games."
A first down later and the Blue Devils milked the remainder of the clock to seal the victory.
"I don't want to replay it again. Let's put it that way. It's not one of those I'd like to redo," Worst said.
Phillips said the league finished with one for the ages.
"You won't watch a better football game," Phillips said. "You won't watch two teams go at it and fight any harder than these two would. Like two teams in a championship match and they went toe-to-toe for all four quarters. I'm extremely, extremely proud of the effort our kids made. There's a lot of teams that are 5-4 in the state and they come out and just mail it in. They think there's nothing to play for. But our kids knew what they're made of and they're a great group of character kids and they came out and put a real show on. And one point got us again and that's life."
Caudill finished with 316 yards on 23 of 46 passing with two TDs and two interceptions. He added 57 yards rushing and a score in his final high school game.
Bryan Powers started the scoring with a 67-yard punt return in the first quarter. Holsinger had 84 yards rushing, 69 passing and two TDs. He also had a two-point conversion.
"Everybody stepped up. The whole team got up. We made plays. Just like last week at Hopewell, we were down," Holsinger said. "I think that helped us a lot, knowing that we could come back and get the victory."
Phillips said his team missed out on winning a final MAL crown but already tossed the gauntlet down on winning the inaugural Northern 10 title, the league both schools move to next season.
"I told our guys that this is a springboard for us because our guys know how good they are and the MAL knows how good we are," Phillips said. "There may be people around the state that don't know how good we are. But our kids know it and they're going to fight in the offseason and work in the offseason so the next year people know. We're going after (the league title). We ain't taking a backseat to nobody."