The game-winning two-minute drill is a standard in professional football, but the Huntsville Hornets worked it to near perfection in their come-from-behind, 35-31 win over Magnolia West, Oct. 19.
Hornets quarterback Malik Brown drove his team to a touchdown with 26 seconds remaining in this critical District 18-4A battle. An 8-yard pass to senior Ricky Bennett on third-and-goal moved Huntsville's record to 5-2 (4-1 in 18-4A), while the Mustangs dropped to 4-4 (3-3) on the season.
Starting at the West 44 with 2:04 play, Brown, a junior, guided the Hornets to the end zone in eight plays, helped by a pass interference call on West on first and 20 at the 23-yard line. It was the fourth straight close finish for the Mustangs, who have won two of their four nail biters since the end of September.
"The bad news is we had a chance to win," West Coach Shawn Bell told his squad after the game. "The good news is we still control our own destiny."
Wins against Caney Creek and Waller at the end of the regular season could ensure the Mustangs a spot in the 4A postseason playoffs.
West took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, capitalizing on a Huntsville turnover deep in Mustangs' territory. Brown fumbled on a quarterback keeper and West's Jeremy Bronikowski found the loose ball on the 22. On the next play, Bynum ran 16 yards to the 6-yard line, then scored on a flanker reverse with 6:59 left in the quarter.
Huntsville then moved 66 yards in seven plays, scoring their first touchdown on a 16-yard toss from Brown to junior receiver Christain Champine. But Varela's point-after attempt sailed wide left and West remained ahead 7-6 with 4:45 left in the quarter.
The Mustangs started their next drive from their own 30, moving to the Hornets' three, before settling for a 20-yard field goal by Struthers with 2:05 left in the first period. The drive was highlighted by passes from Logan to Ray for 17 yards and to junior receiver Justin Smith for 25 yards.
The two squads exchanged punts to start the second stanza, then West struck quickly on a bubble screen from Logan to senior Jeremy Jordan, who scampered 64 yards down the middle of the field to extend the Mustangs' lead to 17-6 after Struther's second PAT of the contest.
The Hornets retaliated on their next possession, beginning after Branch returned the kickoff 31 yards from the West 14 to the 45. Brown and his cohorts then took 11 plays to score again, this time on a 22-yard completion from Brown to sophomore receiver Morie Evans on fourth and 9. The two-point conversion attempt failed, but West was penalized for being offsides. Brown then found another sophomore receiver, Dacuan Jenkins, in the left corner of the end zone to cut West's lead to 17-14 at the half.
West opened the second half with a 15-play, 81-yard drive which consumed nearly half of the third quarter. The march included a daring fake punt on fourth-and-five at the Mustangs' 35 when senior Zach Mitchell passed to Ray, who caught the ball just far enough for a first down at the 40.
Later in the drive, sophomore Chris Nicholson rumbled up the middle for 19 yards to the Hornets' 28. A pass interference call on Huntsville moved the Mustangs inside the visitors 10. Two plays later, Logan scored on a keeper from four yards out, and West moved to a 24-14 margin.
After another exchange of punts, Huntsville drove 55 yards in three plays, scoring their third touchdown on a 6-yard run by Evans. Prior to the score, Brown had found Champine on a toss into a crowd of players for 50 yards to the West 5. Varela's second PAT of the night closed the gap to 24-21.
On the next possession, Logan was intercepted by Hornet defensive back Kadamaien Albert at the Mustangs' 18 yard line, but Brown was sacked for an 18-yard loss on second-and-10 as the quarter closed. A personal foul call on the Hornets led to an end to that threat, just before the remainder of the fourth quarter fireworks.
Huntsville took the lead for the first time with 8:20 remaining in the contest after a 3-play, 45-yard drive, capped by a 26-yard pass from tailback James Burns to wide receiver Kaleb Branch. Junior kicker Fernando Varela's PAT made it 28-24.
But West responded with a quick 63-yard march of their own, ignited by a 50-yard catch-and-run from junior quarterback Troy Logan to sophomore fullback Tyler Ray. Logan then found senior receiver Zeke Bronson for 8 yards to the Huntsville 9. After the Hornets were assessed a 4½-yard penalty for a facemask infraction, senior Brady Bynum found paydirt on the next play. Senior kicker Andrew Struther's PAT reclaimed West's lead at 31-28. The two teams then traded possessions before the Hornets' winning drive.
West actually had a slim chance at victory after Huntsville's go-ahead score. Starting at their own 25, the Mustangs moved to the Hornets' 31 after a 38-yard completion from Logan to Bynum with one second left. A desperation heave from Logan in the right front corner of the end zone fell just short and off the fingertips of Bronson.
"A close game," Logan said. "I should have thrown it a little bit deeper."
The Mustangs finished with 19 first downs to 21 for Huntsville. West had 333 yards of total offense, including 249 yards passing. Jordan hauled in eight receptions for 144 yards, while Ray had three catches for 72 yards. Huntsville totalled 301 yards of offense, including 185 through the air. Brown also had 49 yards rushing.
"They just had one more possession than we did," Bell said. "I believe we could have won the game if we would have had enough time at the end."