The details have already faded a little bit for Central-Florence head coach Heath Wood.
He remembers moments from Friday’s wild and crazy 70-69 victory over Westminster Christian Academy on the night Central-Florence celebrated homecoming. He can tell you about his team’s inability to field onside kicks in the fourth quarter and once-comfortable leads that melted away. He doesn’t remember every scoring play but can describe the wacky Hail Mary pass that bounced off several players hands and another’s helmet and still left his team with work to do. He remembers the feelings during the fourth quarter and the overwhelming relief in postgame.
“As far as I go, it was an emotional rollercoaster,” said Wood, who has been the Wildcats head coach since 2011. “It was pretty wild, I’ll be honest with you. Every emotion you can think of during a game, it was there Friday night, for sure.”
This game will be well remembered in the AHSAA record books, according to weekly Football Spotlight on the AHSAA website. State records were set in combined first downs (67), most points by both teams in the fourth quarter (57), most points by a losing team (69) and most combined offensive plays (148). The total points by both teams tied for second in state history and Westminster quarterback Brandon Musch’s nine touchdowns accounted for was also tied for second.
Officially, Westminster was the losing team because that’s the way this thing works. It’s hard to call either team a loser, however.
“Hats off to Westminster, man, I mean that,” Wood said. “Those guys could have given up at any point in time in that game. They never did. I’m proud of our guys for doing what it took to win the game.”
It came very close to being just another Friday night blowout. Central-Florence led, 34-14, at halftime and by 27 points in the fourth quarter. Then things got crazy. Musch got the offense rolling and the Wildcats kept getting the ball back on the ensuing kickoffs. The Wildcats scored three touchdowns in the final four minutes and 30 seconds of the game. Two of those scores gave Westminster the lead. Both times, the Wildcats found a way to answer.
Wood tipped his cap to Musch, who threw for 467 yards and seven touchdowns and ran for 110 yards and two more scores.
“He’s really good, now, he can run it or throw it,” Wood said.
His guys were pretty good, also. Quarterback Jackson Brewer threw for two scores, Evan Hanback rushed for nearly 200 yards, Jaden Smith had a pair of two-point conversion runs, Hunter Palmer rushed for three touchdowns and Drake Dorsett scored three touchdowns, included the Hail Mary. Wood also praised lineman Chase Palmer, who blocked a fourth-quarter extra point. Without that relatively forgotten play, Wood said, his team would have only been able to tie the game on the final play of regulation.
The drive to the Hail Mary began after Westminster took a seven-point lead with 32 seconds remaining. Central-Florence practiced this situation over and over during preseason practice and game weeks. Wood gathered his team around him before heading out for the drive and saw a confident group.
“The kids stayed locked in,” Wood said. “We get the thing back. I’m looking at the kids, they’re ready to get the ball and go score. I was pretty confident in what we were trying to do. Of course, the offensive coordinator (Zach Cooper) does a great job having those guys ready and prepared. We had two timeouts, which helped us a lot there, too.”
Wood said there was a running play, two pass plays and a quarterback sack before he called his final timeout with five seconds remaining. Brewer lofted the ball toward the end zone on the visiting sideline.
“It was a legit Hail Mary,” Wood said. “I think one of their guys was kind of, sort of about to intercept it and one of our guys sort of hit him. It bounced up, bounced off somebody’s head and one of our guys somehow or other caught it and fell into the end zone. It was pretty spectacular as far as the finish goes. It was on the other sideline, but I was locked in. I was definitely glad to see him come down with it, for sure. “
The bedlam that ensued was worthy of a game-winning moment. The trouble was, though, that play didn’t win the game.
“We score, everybody thinks we win, but we don’t,” Wood said. “We’re still losing by a point, so we got to go for two to win.”
Just like he did on another fourth quarter two-point conversion, the offensive staff called for Smith to get the ball. And, for the second time, he converted.
Now, it’s a few days later and the task is for both teams to move forward. Wood said his team went to work on fielding onside kicks on Sunday, and they’ll continue to do that up to kicking it off against Class 4A Region 7 foe Rogers High. Westminster regroups and gets ready for a Class 4A Region 8 trip to D.A.R. Both Westminster and Central-Florence appear to be headed toward the playoffs.
Wouldn’t it be cool if they could do this again?
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