SAND ROCK – Sand Rock senior Heath Driver came up with a huge 47-yard interception return for a score at the end of the first half to give the Wildcats the lead of their Class 2A, Region 6 football game with Southeastern on Friday.
He almost won it on the Wildcats’ final offensive play of the night.
Driver went up in traffic near the middle of the end zone, but couldn’t snag an Ace Ashley pass as time expired in seventh-ranked Sand Rock’s 32-28 homecoming loss.
“We had the post. It was there all night,” Sand Rock coach Alan Heath said on the game’s final play. “It’s just tough to know if they’re going to come over the top and you’re going to be able to throw underneath or you’re going to have to cross over and throw it. It’s all about timing and where on the field you are, but the post was there. That’s what they were giving us, but they came up on it.
“It’s like I said about the timing. We could’ve done this. We could’ve done that, but we didn’t. They were just one play better tonight.”
“If you’d have told me that (pointing to the scoreboard) I would have never believed it,” Southeastern coach Kevin Byrd said. “These boys just find a way to get after it. Evidently I left too much (time on the clock) because they came right back down. We were just lucky enough to make a play here and there.”
The Wildcats (3-1, 2-1) built a 28-18 advantage early in the fourth quarter before letting it slip from their grasp. Senior defensive back Olin Pruitt intercepted a Trent Carpenter pass and returned it to Mustang 39-yard line with 8:48 remaining. Two plays later, sophomore running back Jacob Cornejo scored on a 40-yard run. Bryan East’s extra point provided Sand Rock with a 10-point cushion, but the game was far from over.
Southeastern (4-0, 3-0) marched 72 yards in 10 plays, capping the drive off with Carpenter’s 2-yard touchdown run. The try for two failed, but the Mustangs were back within a score at 28-24 with 3:54 left on the clock.
Sand Rock took its next possession and appeared as if it would score another touchdown. A 25-yard Ashley-to-Pruitt connection brought the ball inside the Mustang 20, but the game officials ruled Pruitt fumbled at the 18 before he went down, which turned the ball back over to Southeastern with 2:52 remaining.
The Mustangs cashed the turnover into what proved to be the game-winning score. On a second-and-15 at midfield, Carpenter connected with Benjamin Hall, who dashed down the Sand Rock sideline for the score with 36.9 seconds to go. Carpenter completed the 2-point conversion pass to running back Jarrod Williams, providing the Mustangs a 32-28 advantage.
But the Wildcats didn’t back down.
Junior running back Trace Haygood returned the ensuing kickoff 44 yards, setting the Wildcat offense up at the Mustang 41 with 28.2 seconds left. Sand Rock got five plays in that span, marching down to the 23 for a manageable touchdown, but Ashley couldn’t connect with Driver between a pair of Southeastern defenders for the game-winning score as time expired.
Southeastern took the lead in the first quarter on a Williams 71-yard interception return for a touchdown. The two-point try was no good.
Sand Rock answered on its ensuing drive with Cornejo’s 2-yard touchdown run. East missed the extra point, keeping the score tied at 6-6 at the end of the first quarter.
The Mustangs regained the lead with a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter to take an 18-6 advantage. Noah McCray scored on a 1-yard run, and Carpenter connected with Williams on a 35-yard touchdown pass. Both two-point conversion attempts were no good.
Ashley marched the Wildcats 86 yards in eight plays, capped off by his 5-yard touchdown pass to Pruitt. East’s extra point pulled Sand Rock within five at 18-13.
Driver then gave the Wildcats the lead at halftime with his interception return for a touchdown as the first half ended.
“That was huge,” Heath said. “He (Driver) can fly when he gets that football. That was beautiful. That put us in a good situation. That right there was a big score, because my offense wasn’t working like it usually does. That was a way we could get points on the board.”
Carpenter was the game’s top performer. He completed 14-of-27 pass attempts for 209 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 102 yards and a score on 13 carries.
Hall hauled in six catches for 97 yards and a touchdown. Williams caught five passes for 91 yards and a score.
Ashley completed 13 of his 23 pass attempts for 195 yards and a touchdown. Pruitt was his top receiver, with five catches for 101 yards and a touchdown.
Cornejo led the Wildcat ground game with 84 yards on 12 carries and two scores. He also caught four passes for 76 yards.
“We’ll either rise from this and have a good showing against Collinsville (next Friday), or we can do what we’ve done some in years past and say ‘Poor, pitiful me. We lost a ball game. This isn’t fun anymore,’” Heath said. “Hopefully that’s not what we do. I think highly of this football team. I love these kids so much. I’m hoping rather than ripping apart at the seams, we can come back and start the Collinsville week focused on what we’ve got to do to get better so we can go out and hopefully beat a good 3A Collinsville football team.”