|The Patriots were stuffed in the backfield on their 2-point conversion attempt that ended the game.|
|Shelby Deloney (#3) celebrates his game-winning tackle.|
Editorial note #1: One website and another source listed the start time for the game as 7:00 instead of 3:30. Those errors led me to arrive late and miss the first quarter.
Editorial note #2: This was my first attempt at covering a football game AND taking pictures. I found it rather difficult to keep track of which specific players made tackles, interceptions, etc. I could use some help with photography, and NXNS is now accepting applications for a sports field correspondent. This is not a paid position, but I will cover admission into the games.
Several key seniors from last year's deep playoff run had graduated, and the coaching staff went through its own turnover. Still, the North High Polars played with grit, and guts, and pure desire. That combination led to a stingy defense and an offense and special teams that still need work. But the defense covered other shortfalls and gave North High the opportunities they needed to win.
The first indication that this is a football team still working out some kinks was...
...when North High faced fourth and six from their own 43-yard line and attempted to gain a first down instead of punting to pin the Patrick Henry High Patriots deep in their territory. This showed either a lack of confidence in their punting unit or rather high confidence in their defense.
As it happens, both conclusions were true. With 52 seconds left in the first half, North muffed a punt out of their end zone, which went out of bounds at the eight-yard line. After the Patriots failed to connect on an open fade route, their quarterback was sacked for a loss of twelve on second down. Facing third and goal from the twenty, they threw an interception with nineteen seconds left in the half.
Early in the second half, a Polars' interception was returned inside the Patriots' red zone. Behind a monster hit by Dominick Tucker on 3rd and 4, the Polars kept Patrick Henry from even converting a first down.
On North's next possession, they were moving the ball as well as they would in the entire game. Quarterback Trent Epps easily had a first down on an option play where he kept the ball. Then he tried to do too much and made an ill-advised lateral to the running back. That turned into a fumble that the Patriots recovered and returned to their 19. A second straight possession started in their own red zone and once again the Polars' defense held.
Later in the half, the Patriots' best drive was augmented by a Polars' 15-yard penalty that brought Patrick Henry within sight of the end zone. A two-yard loss and a seven-yard loss later, they faced 3rd and 19 deep in their own territory. "This is where turnovers happen," I thought. "At the high school level in situations like this, a team facing third-and-long this close to the end zone will try to do too much. And against such a gritty defense, somebody's going to make a mistake."
Did I mention my uncanny ability to see into the future? Because North intercepted on that exact play.
On the Patriots' last possession of regulation, the Polars again intercepted. Epps threw one his better passes of the game to a wide-open Dontarius Tyler. The toss wasn't quite in stride and Tyler had to come back for it. North fans let out sighs of exasperation as the ball hit Tyler's hands but fell to the ground. It was a tough play, but the Polars will have to make plays like that to be successful throughout the season. A 23-yard run with twelve seconds left brought the ball to the Polars 19 for one final play. Patrick Henry held their ground, and the game went scoreless into overtime.
Each team gets possessions starting at the ten-yard line, first and goal. For the Polars, Morocco Ballard punched it in from four yards out and Michael Davies converted the extra point. On the game's final possession, a North penalty gave the Pats a starting position at the five. Mike Jones of the Patriots scored on a 1-yard run and Patrick Henry gambled it all on a two-point conversion attempt. North's defense came through again, swarming the backfield. Shelby Deloney was credited with the tackle, and the Polars emerged victorious!