Daryce Jackson's eyes were on the football, his mind racing stride-for-stride with his sprinting legs.
This was it. If Jackson catches the ball, the New Haven Bulldogs have a chance. If he doesn't, it's over. New Haven would go on to beat Leo 35-33 in overtime Friday at Leo. But at this moment, the Bulldogs had trailed Leo's Lions the whole game. There was a bit over 45 seconds left in regulation.
It was 4th-and-29. Desperation time.
Tim Jordan, New Haven's backup quarterback who morphed into a high school Tom Brady in an incredible fourth quarter, had let loose a deep throw.
“Coach was like, 'Just read the safeties,' ” Jackson said of the moments before the snap.
Jordan's pass was high and deep and thrown with impressive strength.
“When he threw the ball, I thought, 'Aw, man, it's over with,' but I had to go get it,” Jackson said. “Time was on my hands and I had to go make a play for my team.”
Jackson hauled the pass in and was tackled inside the Leo 5-yard line. Two plays later, 260-pound lineman Antwone Washington powered in for a touchdown to tie the game 27-27 with 19 seconds left.
This was the big 4th down play by New Haven, Jordan to Jackson pic.twitter.com/eJw6Ts3ArI
— Reggie Hayes (@reggiehayes1) September 9, 2017
Jordan, who was 17-for-21 passing for 186 yards and two touchdowns after entering the game in the fourth quarter, threw a scoring pass to Kentrel Thomas on the overtime possession, then followed that with a two-point conversion pass to James Gardner. Leo matched the touchdown – AJ Restivo to Burkley Yoder – but New Haven knocked away Restivo's two-point pass attempt to seal New Haven's win in overtime.
There were tons of pivotal plays along the way that helped New Haven (4-0, 2-0 Northeast Eight Conference) recover from a 17-0 first-quarter deficit and the loss of running back Stephen Owens to injury after he'd rushed for 94 yards and a score.
But without that 4th-and-29 completion, New Haven loses. Plain and simple.
“Going into the huddle, I just had to tell the guys, 'I need protection,' ” Jordan said. “They provided it to me. The receivers said, 'Put it on the outside.'
“I threw it up in triple coverage – they were playing Cover 6 – and to see Daryce Jackson make a play on the corner and come down with the ball was huge.”
The play left Leo (2-2, 1-1 NE8) dejected. The Lions had done such a great job all game of controlling the line of scrimmage, limiting big plays and taking advantage of opportunities – starting with Christian Hoeppner's fumble-recovery touchdown in the first quarter.
It was going to take a great comeback, and a phenomenal play. Jordan to Jackson was that play.
“We have to make a play on that ball,” Leo coach Jared Sauder said. “We just have to do a better job there. We have young kids back there. Hopefully, they learn from it and get better.”
It wasn't just one play that determined the game, Sauder emphasized, even if that 4th-and-29 play would be impossible to forget.
Bryan Sexton, New Haven's starting quarterback, came up with a huge pass with 5.5 seconds left in the first half, hitting Gardner for a 10-yard touchdown. Sexton then hit Davion Harris for a two-point conversion, and Leo's lead was 17-14 at the half.
Sexton, who was 16 of 25 for 103 yards, struggled in the third quarter, leading New Haven coach Jim Rowland to switch to Jordan.
It's never easy to pull a quarterback, but New Haven needed a lift after a scoreless third quarter, so Rowland made the move. Jordan had been near Rowland throughout the game, taking mental snaps with each play.
When he entered the game, he was ready.
“Bryan was struggling, but he's still a great quarterback,” Jordan said. “He was supporting me the whole way, saying 'Come on, Tim, you got this. You got this.' Even though I went in for him, he was there the whole way with me.”
Give credit to Sexton for keeping his mind in the game, even after he was pulled. Give him credit for being a team player. Too few players are willing to keep their heads up in a situation like that.
Gardner, who caught nine passes for 49 yards and rushed eight times for 45 yards, said the Bulldogs players never put their heads down, even when Leo sprinted to a big lead.
They stayed positive even when it was 4th-and-29.
“Just get down the field,” Gardner said. “If it's a pass, catch it.”
Jackson caught eight passes for 104 yards, but said he'd never caught a bigger pass than his last one.
“He just threw it, it was do or die, go make a play or go home,” Jackson said. “We made the play.”
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at email@example.com.
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