HILLSBOROUGH — Machai Holt had just scored a 10-yard rushing touchdown in overtime, and the Orange Panthers were about to kick an extra point to try to take a seven-point lead over Northwood. …
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HILLSBOROUGH — Machai Holt had just scored a 10-yard rushing touchdown in overtime, and the Orange Panthers were about to kick an extra point to try to take a seven-point lead over Northwood.
But an extra point, at that moment, was anything but simple.
Two years ago, on the same field, in nearly an identical situation, with the Panthers in overtime against Northwood, a missed extra point had cost Orange the game.
“I made a promise to our coaching staff and to myself that we will never go for one in overtime again, ever,” Orange coach Van Smith said. “But having the possession first, you don’t want to go for two and not get it and then all they’ve got to do is get the extra point to win. So in that situation we felt compelled to go for one.”
Smith broke his promise, choosing to kick, with a kicker who hadn’t been able to convert any of two field goal and four extra point attempts in regulation.
On top of that, hand injuries to the Panthers’ starting long snapper and holder had held both of them out for most of the game.
“But on that last one,” Smith said. “Those guys were like, ‘Coach, I’ll do it. My hand hurts, but I’ll do it. I can persevere for one play.’”
Despite all of that, Nigel Slanker’s kick was good, and a missed extra point from Northwood after the Chargers scored a touchdown of their own gave Orange a wild, 31-30 overtime win on Friday night at Auman Stadium.
The win boosted the Panthers to 3-6, while the Chargers dropped to 4-5.
Northwood got off to a blazing start with a revamped empty-backfield offense, converting a 42-yard field goal and an 11-yard touchdown pass to take an early lead.
“We don’t have a tailback,” Chargers coach Cullen Homolka said of the new-look offense. “We just decided early that this would be our best bet. We could get some space and score some touchdowns that way.”
After a Panthers missed field goal, Northwood converted receiver Deuce Powell spun his way through several defenders for an 8-yard touchdown rush to make it 17-0, but he suffered a leg injury on the play and would not return.
As the second quarter began, the Panthers suddenly had a new weapon, as running back Omarion Lewis had not played in the first quarter due to missing practice earlier in the week. Less than a minute before the half, Lewis bowled through several tacklers for an 11-yard touchdown rush, making the score 17-6.
Coming out of the half, Northwood drove 99 yards and Aaron Ross, another converted receiver, ran for a 5-yard score to make it 24-6 with 7:06 to go in the third quarter.
Northwood looked to be in total control after forcing another punt, but the Chargers’ game began to rapidly unravel, as quarterback Jack Thompson’s first pass of the ensuing drive was intercepted by Elliott Woods. Just three minutes later, after two 24-yard rushing scores for Lewis and two unsuccessful PATs, the margin was 24-18.
“[Lewis] was fired up and ready to go,” Smith said. “Sometimes it’s like a dog on a chain. He can see that meat over there and he can’t get to it and he’s just chomping at the bit, salivating, and you let him off the chain and he goes crazy.”
Said Orange quarterback Wyatt Jones, “We just tried to be more aggressive and hit them instead of letting them hit us.”
The Panthers got another defensive stop, but Northwood called a fake punt and Aidan Laros dashed down the right sideline for a 67-yard touchdown. However, the play was called back for holding, forcing the Chargers to punt the ball away.
Two plays later, Jones scrambled to his left and looked as if he would take off running, but instead fired to a wide-open Zyon Pettiford, who was tackled at the one-yard line after a 58-yard gain. But that play was nullified by an ineligible man downfield penalty and Orange was forced to punt.
With 5:18 to go in the fourth quarter, a quarter in which both teams had numerous chances to put the game away, Thompson was intercepted over the middle by Holt.
“You want to show the quarterback one thing and give him another,” Smith said. “Smoke and mirrors.”
Jones then hit Holt on a skinny post down the seam for a 31-yard touchdown, but Chris Lawson blocked Slanker’s extra point to preserve the tie.
Ross then intercepted Jones, giving Northwood possession with 2:03 left in regulation, and Laros converted another gutsy fake punt rush by a matter of inches.
But Laros’ potential game-winning 40-yard field goal was blocked, sending the game to OT.
“I have to go watch film, I don’t even know who it was,” Smith said. “Somebody needs to get a lollipop, though.”
After Holt’s rushing touchdown and Slanker’s improbable extra point, Thompson completed a 10-yard touchdown to Ross on Northwood’s first overtime snap. But Laros’ kick was wide right, sending the Panther sideline into a state of jubilation.
“I was going crazy,” Lewis said. “I just started jumping, screaming, everything.”
“Jim Valvano after the 1983 national championship game, running around and nobody would hug him, that was me tonight,” Smith said. “I think I threw my shoulder out when I punched the air.”
Northwood managed just 45 yards of offense after the first series of the second half.
“Offensively we just didn’t do anything right for about a quarter and a half and it haunts you,” Homolka said. “It’s been our problem all year; we just can’t seem to put a full game together.”
It was a deflating second half for the Chargers in a game replete with nullified trick plays, fake punts, and a bounty of missed kicks, in which the least likely play of all may have been a successful extra point.
“We missed six straight kicks tonight,” Smith said. “But we hit the one where it counted.”