“Dadgummit, I wanted to win.”
That’s all that was going through Reeltown coach Matt Johnson’s head when he decided to make a gutsy call at the end of Friday night’s AHSAA Class 2A semifinal against Leroy.
In overtime, the Bears started out with a quick score to go up by a touchdown. But the Rebels answered right back as an unlikely source, Logan Lee, caught his first pass of the season, which was good for a 12-yard touchdown to pull Reeltown within one.
But instead of kicking an extra point despite having one of the most reliable kickers in the state, the Rebels went a different direction. They decided to go for two.
“He just had confidence, I guess,” Reeltown senior Cameron Faison said. “I believed in us and we all believed in each other.”
It looked like it wasn’t going to be the right call though but a flag for holding against Leroy gave the Rebels one last shot. And they delivered. Faison took the handoff from Iverson Hooks and bullied up the middle for the two-point conversion and the 29-28 victory, sending the packed stands at Nix-Webster-O’Neal Stadium into a frenzy.
“In our heads, we just had to be motivated,” Faison said. “He called a power play to the right, and we were ready. The coaches just told us to get it. We knew what we had to do and we got in the end zone.”
With the win, Reeltown (13-1) punched its ticket to its first state championship since 2010 and its first under Johnson.
“It was just a flood,” Johnson said. “That’s why I subbed that backfield in with (Robert Crittenden, Tre Tre Hughley and Faison, who are all seniors). I said, ‘We’re going to put this on our seniors.’ They’ve fought, they’ve been here starting since freshman year, and man, it was awesome. Everybody is talking about the play call and going for it and how it was gutsy, but that’s the kids. It’s 100% resiliency on their part.”
Reeltown showed resiliency throughout as Leroy (11-3) took a late lead.
After the Rebels scored to open the third quarter, the Bears weren’t going down without a fight. Reeltown moved to an even defensive front and gave Leroy fits throughout the entire second half. The Rebels got a big momentum swing when Rhasheed Wilson picked off a Leroy pass after it was knocked down by Faison and they continued to stop the Bears.
“I thought it was going to fall to the ground but I just didn’t give up on the play,” Wilson said. “Coach told us we played the worst defensive game that we had in the first half. He told us that the score was still tied up 7-7 then we played our defense to win it.”
But Leroy wasn’t going down without a fight, despite being down 14-7 heading into the final quarter. The Bears scored on a 39-yard pass from Kade Moseley to Caleb Moore to tie it up. Then they took a lead with just 1:25 left as Kelston Fikes capped off a drive with a 2-yard score.
But at no point was Johnson worried.
“If we have the ball, I always think we have shot,” Johnson said.
On second-and-10 from their own 38, the Rebels looked to try to make something happen and Hooks was extremely patient before he found Faison, who had gotten behind the defense and was wide open just outside the end zone. Faison scored on the next play from 2 yards out to tie it at 21-21 with 53.7 seconds left.
“(Hooks) has been working since last December,” Faison said. “He’s been a big part of our offense and our defense. He’s a great player.”
Leroy tried to take a few shots deep but when a pass on fourth-and-4 fell incomplete, the game was sent to overtime.
To begin the extra time, Reeltown won the toss and gave the Bears the ball first. It took only two plays for Leroy to score and go ahead, 28-21. Defensively, the Bears looked stout, dropping a Rebel running back negative-2 yards on Reeltown’s first shot. But then Hooks found Lee in the middle and Lee took a short step into the end zone, setting up the final play.
“It’s just like a dream right now,” Johnson said. “There’s so many stories on this team. People up there (in the stands) see football players, but each one of these kids is so much more. I could go on and on and on and on about the stories and perseverance they’ve had to come through. This is a special group.”
Reeltown will face Fyffe (14-0), the defending 2A state champion that hasn’t lost a game since 2017, in the state championship, which will be held at 3 p.m. Friday at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn.