All hope seemed lost for Stanhope as the Eufaula Tigers picked off the ball, up by a field goal with two minutes remaining in the game.
Fans had already begun to file out of the stadium when quarterback Jacob Bryant connected with Jackson Thomas in the middle of the field on a slant route. 26 seconds are all that showed on the scoreboard as Thomas cut back to the outside of the hash and left the two nearby Eufaula defenders in the dust as he raced to the endzone. Stanhope took the lead back 24-20 in one of the most flip-flopped endings possible in a football game. Euphoria and screams of celebration poured in from Stanhope fans and players alike as the once dread-filled bleachers filled up with sounds of glee.
“Was one heck of a high school football game,” coach Brian Bradford said.
“You know the last two we’ve had here, just bang bang, went down the wire to the last play. Very exciting high school football. You can’t get anything better than this.”
Eufaula was in a much different position just three minutes before. Dwelling on the feelings of losing in an unforgettable fashion at your opponent’s homecoming game wasn’t what Eufaula players had in mind.
With 2 minutes left on the clock in the fourth quarter and a tied score of 17-17, the Eufaula Tigers looked to put the finishing touches on a road comeback win as they were once down 17-3 in the second quarter. The Tigers rushed the ball three consecutive times at the goal line, all three of which were stopped by the Stanhope defense who stacked the box and made a miraculous goal-line stand at the one-yard line.
Eufaula would kick the field goal to go up 20-17 and claim the team’s first lead of the game. But the Mustang’s strong end-game defense kept the game within striking distance and gave the opportunity for a miracle even with such little time remaining.
A miracle that would eventually come for the battle-hardened Mustang squad.
“Oh, that was big,” Bradford said. “You know they had all the momentum in the world. Had the ball on the five and defense came up strong, banging them, keeping them out of the end zone and just giving the offense a chance. You know we were struggling there a little bit but it's all about just being that guy. We talked about it in pregame, about being the guy when your number is called, step up and do something. And Jackson Thomas made an outstanding play. Great ball great protection, their defense is one of the best we've seen, and he just came on and made an outstanding second effort play right there to win the game for us.”
Already doubtful Stanhope fans had the last of their hopes crushed by a sideline Bryant interception that would eventually be called back for out-of-bounds by the intercepting receiver.
All the hope and energy evaporated from fans, but immediately shot back up immeasurably when Thomas caught the slant and made a beeline for the game-winning touchdown.
“We knew it was a big game coming in, we wanted to get a win,” Thomas said. “I just came out and went on the slant. The middle of the field was wide open, one man to beat; I beat him and ran to the endzone and scored for the game.”
“Coach Rigby over there is an outstanding coach, got an outstanding team fought hard to the very very end. Can't say how proud I am of these guys,” Bradford said. “They never quit, there’s no quit in them. They’re competitors, they get after it, and I mean even when the game’s over, we're still fighting and came out with a win. So you know super proud of them, they deserve it. They've been constant all year long and we got some outstanding great kids at this school and in this community so we're just we're just excited to bring some excitement and to get a win for this community.”
Antonio Trone did his usual work on the ground for the Mustangs, taking inside handoffs and finding quick gaps to exploit with his patient yet explosive feet. He rushed for over 65 yards including a touchdown out of the wildcat for the first score of the game.
“This is a big win,” Thomas said. “We’re down, seconds left. We just came out, fought until the end and came out with the win”
The Mustangs are now 3-1 in 6A Region 3 and will look to keep momentum going from this game’s miraculous win into their next matchup as they take on Calera High School at home next Friday at 7 p.m.