Middle Creek junior Kevin Jones looks to spin past Leesville Road's Braxton Berrios after catching a pass in the second quarter. GREG MINTEL - newsobserver.com
Running around and screaming was the only reaction for the Middle Creek Mustangs. A hero didn’t need to be identified amid their celebration. For coach Sean Crocker, he didn’t need to know who made the game-winning tackle. All that mattered to him was what the final score Friday night in the first round of the 4-AA playoffs.
Middle Creek 41, Leesville Road 40
The tenth-ranked Mustangs needed a stop and got one in overtime on a two-point conversion attempt by the Pride. After scoring a touchdown first, the Mustangs let the seventh-ranked Pride score in just one play. A second overtime seemed certain.
But after a time, Leesville Road coach David Green decided to send his offense back on the field to win the game.
“I wasn’t surprised by their decision because I could tell they were wearing down,” Crocker said. “We could have gone another four overtimes, so I understand their thinking.”
Crocker called a timeout to set up his defense.
“I was kind of surprise given the circumstances,” linebacker Britt Cherry said. “I was just thinking in my mind there’s no way I’m going to let this happen.”
Cherry didn’t let his teammates down.
In a shotgun, four-receiver formation, the Pride (9-3) elected to hand the ball to running back Ryan Mangum, who was met by Cherry at the two-yard line and never came close to reaching the end zone. In order to make the tackle, Cherry had to fight off a pulling offensive lineman to reach Mangum.
“I just shoved off the block and I brought it all on that one,” Cherry said. “I did whatever I could to make them not get in.”
After the game, only a few players could tell Cherry made the tackle – a stop that sends Middle Creek (9-3) to the second round to face Garner.
Quarterback Garrett Leatham saw the play happen just as he opened his eyes from sending a prayer.
“They were probably a millions prayers on our sideline,” Leatham said. “We knew it was either ridiculous crying on getting ready for next week. That was probably the craziest game I’ve ever played in.”
The tenth-ranked Mustangs were able to come back from a 14-point deficit with Leatham throwing two touchdowns. Running back Naylaan Lopez also had two touchdowns and 239 yards.
“They did great because every time we gave up as score, they came right back and put it right in the end zone,” Cherry said of the offense. “Naylaan balled tonight, and he was spectacular.”
Once the immediate celebration subsided, word spread throughout the Mustangs that Cherry made the play. Crocker then tried to put the play is defense made into perspective.
“We made that harder than it should have been,” he said. “Those guys have played well all year, and that may be the biggest stop in Middle Creek history.”