The beauty of sports is the ability to provide a stage for incredible drama, heart-stopping conclusions to tension-filled games.
All the elements are there--a ticking clock winding down to the end, young athletes giving their all, and with the ability to offer amazing efforts and performances, and the coming together of those factors to produce stunning finishes.
Friday night at Dietz Field, the Pisgah High and Hendersonville football teams combined to create a memorable game and unforgettable ending, mixing in the kind of youthful mistakes and great plays that make a game that those who witnessed will long remember.
From start to finish, the key actor in this play was Bearcats’ gifted receiver Kalin Ensley. He started the scoring by sprinting to the end zone on a 93-yard touchdown reception in the opening period, and he ended the scoring in similar fashion, racing down the sideline for the winning score on the last play of the game for a 35-29 win over Pisgah.
And in between was nearly three hours of twists and turns that together formed an instant classic.
“It was crazy!” was the understatement from Hendersonville coach Jim Sosebee. “I’ve never been involved in a game like that, with that kind of finish.”
The Bearcats (6-3, 2-1) came out strong, scoring on their first two possessions for a 14-0 lead.
Pisgah (5-4, 1-2) took the early punches and responded with haymakers, scoring three touchdowns in seven minutes of the second quarter to take a 22-14 lead at intermission.
Hendersonville, which ended up with five turnovers, quit giving the ball away long enough to tie the score at 22-22 on the first possession of the second half, a Ty’rese Hunt 10-yard TD run set up by Ensley’s 59-yard kickoff return.
The score stayed that way until midway through the fourth period, Pisgah unable to move the ball and the Bearcats throwing three interceptions inside the Bears’ 25-yard line.
And then it really got fun.
With the score tied and just over five minutes left, Pisgah was in trouble and deep in its own territory. On third-and-long, Tanner Wike was sacked, but the Bearcats defender picked up the quarterback and slammed him to the ground like a pro wrestling soufflé.
Two penalties were called--unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct--and 30 yards were marched off, giving the Bears new life.
Reeling off a couple of long runs after being limited to 32 yards of offense in the second half, Pisgah took the lead at 29-22 on Rome Henson’s 14-yard dash into the end zone with 2:13 left to play.
Another good kickoff return, this one by Tykel Landrum, set the Bearcats up at their 44-yard line.
“We have a senior quarterback who has done this before, and I just told him we had plenty of time,” said Sosebee.
Quarterback Alex Williford shook off the interceptions to complete a 17-yard pass to Landrum, but then faced a 3rd-and-14 with just over a minute left to play.
He found Ensley on a short pass, and the gifted 6-4 athlete shimmied past one defender and shook off a couple of other would-be tacklers to fall into the end zone and complete a 32-yard scoring pass with 51 seconds remaining.
And then it got fun again.
Down 29-28, Sosebee decided to play for the tie and sent in his kicking team to attempt an extra point.
Pisgah coach Brett Chappell called a time-out, presumably to ice kicker Tanner Gilliam.
Sosebee countered by sending his offense back onto the field, apparently deciding to go for the win.
With the offense lined up for a potentially winning two-point conversion, Hendersonville called time out and sent the kicking team back in.
Turns out it wasn’t indecisiveness, just clever strategy in a clutch situation.
“We sent the offense back in to try and draw them offside, try and pick up that yard and a half (on a penalty), and it went through my mind to go for two, but then we decided to kick it and believe we could get them in overtime,” said Sosebee.
Gilliam’s kick was true and the game was tied at 29-29, and the game was headed for overtime, right?
Not even close to being finished with the drama.
After a touchback on the kickoff, the Bears were 80 yards away from the end zone and with less than a minute left in regulation.
Wike took a snap from the shotgun formation and ran up the middle for a 13-yard gain. Then he ran the same play again for a short gain, but Hendersonville was whistled for a 15-yard penalty.
Now at midfield with 26 seconds left, surely it was time for some desperation passes, right?
Instead Wike ran up the middle again, for 15 yards. Then he ran the same play again for 10 yards. Then he ran the same play for a fifth straight time, gained 9 yards and popped up to call time out with two seconds remaining.
Out came Pisgah kicker Justin Francis for a 33-yard field goal try that would win the game.
But the Bearcats got a great surge from the line of scrimmage, and several defenders were in the backfield when Francis’ right leg swung through and made contact.
Linebacker Cole McMurray got his left arm up and blocked the kick, the momentum of his surge and the force of the ball knocking him to the ground, where he remained while his teammates were suddenly running for glory in the opposite direction.
That guy Ensley grabbed the blocked kick and raced down the sideline with the clock showing all zeros, with a huge home crowd roaring and going nuts.
Meanwhile, a full crowd of fans from Haywood County in the opposite bleachers could only stare blankly at the incredible change in emotions over a few agonizing seconds.
The possibility of exhilarating victory, or at worst taking their chances in overtime, had dissolved into the most devastating and unbelievable of defeats.
“We went from thinking we might lose to winning in a matter of seconds,” said Sosebee. “The whole game, it was an amazing rollercoaster of emotions for both teams.”
For the Bearcats, it was the latest in a season of fantastic finishes, the sixth time in nine games they had won or lost by eight points or less. It was the fifth time a game had been decided in the final minute, the fourth time they had found a way to win when the game was on the line.
“That’s five straight games decided by a touchdown or less,” said Sosebee. “I probably need to check my blood pressure.”
The drama of sports – you can’t beat it.