The game went into overtime in which each team gets the ball on the opponent’s 10-yard line and has four plays to score. Freedom lost a yard in its first three attempts, then Bobby Cook kicked a 28-yard field goal to put the Falcons up 24-21. When Antioch got its turn, on the first play Richie Bronaugh ran the ball down the left side and leapt over the goal line to secure a 27-24 victory as several hundred Panther fans at Eells Stadium went wild.
Early on it looked like it might be Freedom’s night. The Falcons jumped out to a 13-0 lead, scoring on their first two possessions.
Freedom marched 72 yards on its opening drive. The highlight was a 36-yard bomb from Stephen Rodriguez to D’Amora Cooper to put the ball on the one, which Cooper ran in for the score on the next play. Rodriguez hooked up with Kenneth Walker from 11 yards out for the second score as the siren sounded to end the first quarter, but Cook’s extra point kick sailed wide right.
Antioch came to life with five minutes to go in the half. After Nygi Crittle intercepted a Rodriquez pass on the Freedom 37, the Panthers scored on an 11-yard pass from Billy Cloninger to Nick Lucero. They scored again on a 74-yard drive with a little more than two minutes left in the half, gaining 54 yards on a Cloninger bomb to Greg Arroyos who caught it off balance and stumbled down to the Freedom 10 before being tackled. On fourth and goal with the ball on the 4 and 40 seconds left on the clock, Cloninger hit Jonathan Myers in the end zone. Female kicker Dallas Butterfield’s kick was good once again to put the Panthers up 14-13 at the half.
Antioch scored on its first possession of the third quarter on an 18-yard pass in the right corner to Shamawn Wright, who leapt over the pylon. The sure-footed Butterfield put Antioch up 21-13.
And there things remained for much of the rest of the game as the teams traded punts or turnovers on downs. When Freedom punted the ball with a little more than two minutes left, a bunch of Falcon fans packed up and left, figuring it was over. And that seemed like a pretty safe assumption because Antioch had been running the ball well all night and only needed to go 10 yards to run out the clock.
But the Falcon defense rose to the occasion, preventing the first down and getting the ball back on the Falcon 36 with a 1:12 left on the clock and no timeouts remaining. Now it was the offense’s turn to rise to the occasion. A Rodriguez pass to Joseph Morales put the ball on the 50. A fantastic leaping catch by Jessie Smith moved the ball to the 30 with 34 seconds left. Rodriguez then hit Kenneth Walker in the right corner of the end zone, but the ball went in and out of his hands as the Freedom fans, now on their feet, groaned.
Walker gained redemption on the next play, however, with just 16 seconds left. Rodriguez took the low snap – bad snaps plagued the Falcons all night – regained his balance and threw a strike to Walker in the left corner of the end zone. This time he held on, despite pressure from a Panther defender. Rodriguez ran in the two-point conversion to tie the game with seven seconds left as Falcon players and fans went nuts.
“Great game,” said Falcon Coach Kevin Hartwig. “That’s what you want for a high school football game. We just made a lot of mistakes again tonight. We had opportunities. We’re up 13-zero and turn the ball over and line up wrong and there you go. That’s the first we’ve been in the lead. We’ve got to learn how to play with a lead. But we played real hard. We’ve got the potential. They’ve just got to believe in themselves and have the confidence. And Antioch did a good job of coming back and taking advantage of some things we didn’t do.”
Panther Coach Randy Autentico had nothing but praise for Freedom. “It had a lot of ups and downs in it,” he said. “I thought Freedom really played well. You get to the end, and even though you win you kind of feel bad because it was such an evenly played game. My hat’s off to them. They played really well. I’ll tell you what, they’re a lot better than their record indicates. And we tried to tell our kids that, and they found out. They are coming on and they are a good football team. We are just proud of our kids. We came from down and then we got tied and went into overtime. We just kind of hung together and that will help us.”
The loss dropped Freedom to 0-2 in league play and 0-7 overall. Things aren’t going to get any easier for them Friday, Oct. 30 when they host Pittsburg. Antioch, which is now 2-0 in league and 4-3 overall, will also likely have its hands full Friday night at Heritage