By CHRIS CANNON
POWELL—It was the gutsiest call of the season, and it couldn’t be run to more perfection.
Following a Powell score with 48 seconds remaining on the clock, the Cougars found themselves trailing 21-20.
However, Campbell County head football coach Justin Price had a trick up his sleeve.
The Cougars tossed a halfback pass from Trey Torres to Preston Miller down the near sideline for a 26-21 victory over the Panthers.
The win gave Campbell County a 9-1 record overall, while the team took a share of the District 3-AAA title after tying with Anderson County. The Mavericks and the Cougars both finished the regular season 7-1 in the district.
“Three years ago, this program was No. 8 in this district. Tonight, you’re No. 1!” Justin Price proclaimed after the game, followed by an uproarious cheer.
However, those cheers could have been tears.
With 2:49 left in the game, Ethan Jeffers was picked off in the end zone, as Campbell County led 20-13.
After a 10-play drive, Powell hit pay dirt with a 5-yard run by quarterback Connor Sepesi.
The Panthers pulled a trick of their own, as Tamarius Hunt connected with Tanner Latham on a faked extra point, giving Powell a slim 21-20 lead with only 49 seconds remaining.
That’s when the magic happened.
“It was pretty bad, but I knew in my heart that we had a way to come back,” Isaac Ford said of the Panthers scoring.
Torres picked up a 37-yard return on the kickoff to reach the Powell 47-yard line as Campbell County set up to make a run with only 40 seconds remaining.
“Anytime you’re down like that with 28 seconds, you kind of start digging deep in the playbook,” Justin Price said. “Sometimes, it’s best to figure out what’s been working for you all night and come up with a play off of it. We’d been throwing a bubble to Trey all night long.”
Jeffers took the snap, dropping back. He hit Torres to his right, as the junior receiver looked downfield. Preston Miller was wide open down the sideline as Torres’ pass wobbled its way down the field.
For Torres, it was unacceptable.
“Most of the time, when we get ready to run that play, I take my glove off so I can throw it,” the junior said. “The glove grips onto it, so you can’t release it. I was sitting there trying to take my gloves off, and he said, ‘Hut.’ I just had to throw it with the glove on. It was wobbling, but luckily, somehow, it got to Preston.”
But the wobble didn’t matter.
Miller had sold the hitch, chopping his step to look as if he was a blocker. The safety and the corner both pulled toward Torres, leaving Miller wide open.
“It was a little underthrown and a wobbly pass, but I just eyed the ball, tucked it and sprinted to the end zone,” Miller said.
“The first thing I did was look for flags,” defensive coordinator Matt Price said. “You never know in those situations, but it was kind of just that out-of-body experience when you’re watching that thinking, ‘Did that just happen?’”
It did, and it was probably one of the biggest confidence boosters for the “Team of Firsts.”
Last season, Campbell County set up for a 32-yard field goal against the Panthers with 1:19 remaining in the game. With a 13-all score, Gustavo Rosas’ attempt was blocked by Jonathan Strozyk and returned 75 yards by Tadarius Mims for a 20-13 Powell win inside L. Hope Dossett Stadium.
That loss was where the Cougars realized the team could win.
“I always go back to that game last year as a game where our program changed from a mental standpoint,” Justin Price said. “After that game, our kids felt like, ‘We can compete with these guys.’ As the playoffs were going on, we were at home, and you saw Powell just keep winning and go to the semifinals. Our guys realized that they weren’t far off.”
The Cougars finished with a 3-7 record last season, playing Oak Ridge, Central and Powell to close games late in the season.
However, it was the Powell game that gave the team its offseason slogan, “Finish.”
“That game right there was the reason we took ‘Finish’ to the offseason,” Matt Price said. “To come in here and finish in the last 28 seconds, throwing a Hail Mary and knocking it down at the end of the game, that sums up our offseason. To end the regular season that way, it’s just remarkable.”
Paul Courdle finished the night as the player of the game, as the junior had an impressive stat line.
On offense, the running back finished with seven carries for 30 yards, while gaining 13 yards on three catches. He also added three tackles, an interception with 23 yards worth of return and one forced fumble.
The junior also recovered the defensive fumble, while falling on an offensive loose ball.
“I think I stepped up a lot tonight, more than I have all season,” Courdle said. “I never thought I had it in me to get an interception and get these fumble recoveries. I knew something was going to happen, so I just stayed a few inches from the play. I just went for it.”
For Matt Price, it was good to see the junior perform.
“I told our coaches that we may need to fire this defensive staff for not playing him more on defense this year,” the defensive coordinator said. “He wants it. You can tell by the way he runs. He does everything with a purpose, and we stressed that this week. He does it every single time.”
For many, however, this season’s just been a blur.
“Sometimes, I just have to pinch myself,” Justin Price said. “I wish it would slow down, because this is a magical season for us.”