Down to the wire

Football loses first game of season to rejuvenated Judson team


Davis Kuhn

Stiff-arming a defender, Zack McDonald fights for yardage against South San on Oct. 15. McDonald caught a 37-yard pass late in the fourth quarter on Friday to set the Rangers up for a go-ahead touchdown.

Jackson Posey, Sports Director

Football lost to Judson on Friday 33-32 in a back-and-forth affair that came down to the final seconds. It was the Rangers’ first loss of the season and the Rockets’ first win under newly-minted interim head coach, Joel Call.

The excitement ramped immediately and didn’t slow from there. The Rockets received the opening kickoff and made progress up the field, including converting on a fourth-and-5 in Ranger territory. But safety Camden Egli nipped that momentum in the bud, undercutting a sidearm pass from Michael Burroughs to take possession.

A long sack on third-and-4 forced the Rangers to punt from their own 35-yard line, but the snap sailed over punter Manuel Osorio’s head, allowing the Rockets to begin their drive at the 12. Four plays later, Nathaniel Stanley rumbled into the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard line to give Judson the lead. It was only the fourth deficit Smithson Valley faced all season.

The momentum remained on Judson’s side, as a muffed pooch kick gave the Rockets an extra possession. This time, though, the defense stood firm, as Malachi Lane blocked a 30-yard field goal attempt.

Midway through the second quarter, the Rangers put their first points on the scoreboard. After nine plays and a timeout, Derek Mata capped off a 60-yard drive with a 3-yard, play-action strike to Zack McDonald in the back of the end zone. Tie ball game.

Judson quickly snapped the stalemate as big catch-and-runs by Jeremiah Dunn (30 yards) and Anthony Evans (26 yards) set up Burroughs for a 1-yard touchdown on a quarterback draw.

Thanks to a costly penalty, the Rangers answered back. The Rockets forced them into a fourth-and-6 at midfield, but a defensive lineman lined up over the center on the punt, a 15-yard penalty which gave the home team new life. Three plays later, Kyler Clarke threw a 27-yard, flea-flicker touchdown pass to Dylan Domel to again tie up the game. 

The Rangers recovered a surprise pooch punt, but much to the chagrin of the home crowd, the play was called back for “kick catch interference.” That penalty forced a re-kick from 15 yards back, and this time, the Rockets caught it. The score would remain 14-14 through the end of the second quarter.

But the Rangers picked right back up where they left off in the third quarter, as Lane rocketed 19 yards up the left sideline for a touchdown. Clayton Amaya’s extra point attempt barely struck the right upright, leaving the score at 20-14.

Alan Caracheo picked off Mata on the Rangers’ next drive, but the game was otherwise relatively muted for the next 14 minutes.

That all changed when Lane failed to convert a fourth-and-3 from the Judson 38-yard line. When the Rockets took the field, it seemed to start with a normal enough play – Burroughs handed the ball of to Stanley up the gut. But the running back tossed it back to Burroughs, who tossed a 59-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Anthony Evans with 6:44 remaining. The successful extra point try gave the Rockets a 1-point lead.

And thus began a long, back-and-forth battle between two longtime rivals. Lane again marched the Rangers upfield, eventually scoring on an 11-yard bull rush up the middle, but the his two-point conversion attempt fell short.

Down 26-21, the Rockets needed just three plays to regain the lead. After two short completions to Andre Jones, Burroughs launched another deep touchdown to Evans, this time for 65 yards. At the end of his run, Evans appeared to flash cornerback Garrison Eggleston a peace sign, the signature touchdown celebration of star NFL receiver Tyreek Hill.

Their two-point conversion attempt also fell short, giving the Rangers a 1-point deficit of their own. And with 1:47 remaining, on fourth-and-7 from the Judson 45-yard line, they appeared to be down for the count. But McDonald managed to haul in an impossible catch deep on the right sideline, giving the offense 37 yards and a massive shot in the arm. Two plays later, Lane scored on a 5-yard stretch to the left sideline.

The initial two-point conversion was successful – Brayden Bafidis hauled himself around the quarterback and in on the left side – but a block in the back, and then a delay of game, set the Rangers back to the 18-yard line. Mata’s pass fell incomplete, and suddenly the Rockets, down five points, had 57 seconds to reclaim the lead.

They picked up large chunk gains on three of their first four plays to start the drive, gaining 43 yards in 36 seconds and using just one of their two remaining timeouts in the process. On the next play, Gavin Woods sacked Burroughs, forcing the Rockets to burn their final timeout. Thirty-five yards out, with 14 seconds and no timeouts remaining, the Rockets seemed nearly hopeless.

But, at almost literally the last second, Jones came through. He worked past his defender, found space up the left sideline and caught a 35-yard, go-ahead touchdown with eight seconds remaining. They failed to convert their two-point conversion attempt, leaving the score at 33-32. 

The air seemed to instantly escape from the Smithson Valley faithful, as a hush fell over the recently-exuberant crowd. With such a dynamic special teams unit, though, the chance for a miracle return was still on the table.

The Rockets pooched the kickoff, as they had did on all of their kickoffs, presumably in an attempt to avoid a return from Bafidis or Clarke. Domel hauled it in and attempted to make a heroic play, avoiding multiple would-be tacklers as he worked his way upfield. But the Rockets eventually brought him down just shy of midfield, and not a moment too soon; no sooner had Domel’s knee hit the ground than the clock hit triple zeroes. The upset was complete.

The real story of the game was not any failure by Smithson Valley; it was the potentially momentous win for the Judson program, less than a week removed from firing former head coach Rodney Williams. Led by John Wayne Player of the Week Burroughs, who turned in perhaps his best performance as a signal-caller (23/33 passing, 384 total yards, 4 total touchdowns). Receivers Evans (203 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Jones (87 yards) snagged eight catches apiece. And the special teams unit kept pace with, if not outplayed, arguably the best special teams unit in the area.

Meanwhile, Lane’s hat trick (17 carries, 120 yards, 3 touchdown) and McDonald’s late-game heroics were not enough to lead the Rangers to their eighth consecutive win after the Rockets shut them out in the first quarter.

Smithson Valley will look to get back in the win column next week against East Central, while Judson will host District 27-6A’s other resident heavyweight, Steele.