West is golden again!
Defense stops Page’s last play for 24-19 win
By Steve Williams
It was a team that had leaned on its defense much of the season.
That unit had one more play to roll up their sleeves and go to work; a play that would determine a gold or silver football in the trophy case for years to come.
On third-and-goal at the West 5-yard line, and precious seconds ticking down, Page High chose not to clock it. William Wiebush, the Wildcat formation quarterback, tossed a pass to the left side of the end zone that was intended for Mr. Football finalist Eric Hazzard, a 6-3, 240-pound defensive lineman who was in on the play as a tight end.
Sandwiched by safety An’terius McAlister and cornerback Syxx Hoard, Hazzard couldn’t make the catch.
A celebration of the Rebels’ 24-19 victory and second straight Class 5A state championship in the BlueCross Bowl at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga began.
Coach Lamar Brown was asked to compare this season’s title with last year’s.
“Well, it’s two totally different teams,” he said. “They both were unbelievable. I wouldn’t trade either one of them in.”
Are you going to go for No. 3?
“We’re going to try,” he replied.
Following West’s 15-0 season last fall, this year’s team overcame some mid-season injuries to post a 14-1 record.
Page finished 13-2. It was the Franklin team’s third consecutive loss in the finals.
“They all hurt,” said Page Coach Charles Rathbone. “The one closest to the day is the one that hurts the most. This is the newest, freshest wound.
“I felt like we had our chances. We got down there inside the 5 two times in the last eight minutes and didn’t finish drives. I just hate it for our kids. A great group of kids.”
Hoard, who intercepted three passes, was selected the game’s MVP. Connor Cummings, with touchdown catches of 37 and 27 yards, was the Rebels’ most productive offensive player.
West linebacker Ryan Scott racked up 14 total tackles and two TFL. Cornerback Antwain Burdine had six total tackles, linebacker Anderson Smith 5.5 and lineman Wyatt Deroche five total tackles, two sacks and two TFL.
West punter Jones Bollig averaged 40.4 yards on five punts, including a 46-yarder and one inside the 20.
Momentum-wise, the contest felt like a rollercoaster.
Isaac Power caught a 38-yard touchdown pass from Jonathan Palmer with 4:25 on the first quarter clock to give Page an early lead. It was also the first TD the West defense had allowed in the playoffs.
The Rebels, however, overcame the Patriots’ impressive start and reeled off 24 straight points and looked to be in command. Marshaun Bowers scored on a 1-yard plunge, Patrick Schmid kicked a 31-yard field goal and Cummings caught his first TD pass from Hunter Dance with no time left on the clock in the first half.
Cummings caught his second touchdown pass in the same area of the end zone where he pulled in his first and Schmid’s third PAT gave West a comfortable 24-7 lead with 8:16 to go in the third quarter.
Page, however, did not quit. Wiebush scored on a 13-yard run to cut the Rebels’ lead to 24-13, but Zane Cannon missed the extra point.
Presley Cozart snagged a 16-yard TD pass from Palmer to pull Page within five points with 9:22 remaining in the game. The Patriots’ two-point pass failed.
“They were up 7-0 and had all the momentum and went for (a first down) from about their own 20 on fourth-and-one and didn’t get it, and that kind of flipped the script for a little bit,” recalled Coach Brown. “We scored 24 unanswered, and then they scored 12 unanswered. Two goal-line stands later, we’re state champions.”