Pearland, TX–It all came down to this.
Powerhouse program Fort Bend Hightower had been trading blows with upstart League City Clear Springs in an amazing high school football playoff duel at the Rig in Pearland.
The teams had played four quarters and the outcome still hadn’t been determined. The Hurricanes were in a perilous position because although they had scored an overtime touchdown, they missed the extra point which meant that if Springs crossed the end zone, a mere successful extra point would end their season.
It was 4th and 2 yards yards to go from the 5 yard line. There were no more timeouts to be called, no penalties to interrupt. It was a moment that all sports players live for.
Someone had to come through. Someone had to win.
For over 15 seconds after the play there was no confirmation but a Springs player threw his helmet and shortly thereafter a referee’s words that came over the stadium intercom confirmed what the Chargers on the field already knew. The Hurricanes had escaped.
Springs QB Dylan Doebler handed the ball off to star running back Howard Matthews, who ran into the heart of the Hurricane defense and fell just short of gaining a first down at the 3 yard line, sealing a back and forth instant classic 41-35 win by the Hightower Hurricanes over the Clear Springs in the Bi-District Round of the 2010 UIL high school football playoffs.
“Just to fight through the adversity and to come out with the win feels good,” said Hightower QB Bralon Addison, who scored the game winning TD in overtime.
On one side was jubilation, relief, and satisfaction. But on the other side laid the players and fans of the Chargers, who had fought valiantly and was so close so many times to putting the Hightower Hurricanes away.
Springs (8-3) led 14-7 at the half although they were fortunate that Addison could not keep his feet after an amazing 25 yard run in which he broke through a group tackle of three Springs defenders at the 25 yard line before falling short at the four yard line as time expired in the first half, banging his fist in frustration on the turf before getting up to head to the lockerroom.
Instead of deflating the Hurricanes (9-2) it foreshadowed more of what was to come, as Hightower scored twice early in the second half to take a 21-14 advantage with 6:01 remaining in the third quarter, capped by a 52 yard run by Ed’Marques Batties on Hightower’s first play after a failed punt fake allowed them to take over at their own 48.
“These kids believe that they are gonna be something special and I don’t have to trick them into believing that because they really do believe it,” Hurricanes head coach Barry Abercrombie said.
After the Chargers responded back with 13 yard TD by Matthews, Hightower jabbed right back as they drove down to take the lead 27-21 with 10:48 left in the fourth.
But just like a heavyweight fight, just when one punched the other in the jaw the other came right back. Springs capped a 7 play, 66 yard drive when Howard Matthews came through with a clutch 3 yard run on 4th and 1 to make it 28-27 with 8:08 remaining the fourth.
Springs was ahead 35-27 when the pressure mounted and Hightower needed to make one last response or possibly face elimination. The Hurricanes drove 64 yards in 2:39 to tie the score with 3:24 remaining, with Addison tricking the Chargers with fake draw play that turned into a quick 4 yard TD toss to Batties. To tie the game, Addison ran out of the Shotgun formation and followed his blockers to the left and scored the 2 point conversion.
“We were very confident we would come down and score,” said Addison, who finished with 104 yards passing and 121 yards rushing on 17 carries. “We just keep believing till the clock says 0:00 and we can’t do anything about it anymore. God was on our side, he kept us [going] through this tight battle and we just came out with the win.”
And it was perhaps divine intervention that kept the game from being decided in regulation. The Chargers had marched to the 2 yard line and ran the clock down to :04 seconds, hoping to finish the game off with a 19 yard field goal. That’s when Batties made perhaps the biggest play of the season for the Hurricanes when after a high snap by the Springs deep snapper he deflected the kick of Eric Ferrufino to the right. The Hurricanes lived to play another down, forcing overtime.
“For the defense to keep stepping up–to make them snap the ball [multiple times instead of giving up big plays]–we knew good things could happen,” Abercrombie said. “I can’t reinterate enough how proud I am of these kids and these coaches.”
For the Chargers, it was the most devastating defeat in the school’s short history, one that left players devastated and crying on the field for minutes as well as a dazed and stunned home side crowd and coaching staff. Springs head coach Clint Hartman was virtually speechless.
“It’s a shock,” he said. “It’s a shock is all I can say.”
Hightower meanwhile can bask in the glow of victory in the short term before moving on to face perennial state powerhouse North Shore next weekend at Pasadena Memorial Stadium. North Shore was a 17-10 winner over Deer Park last night.
“Those guys are really good and I’ve got a lot of respect for what Hartman is doing over there.” Abercrombie said referring to Springs. “We know what our bracket looks like and we just learned by playing these guys that every game is gonna have to be like this and I couldn’t be more excited.”
And if every game does end up as this one did, then the so-called “bracket of death” better known as Region III of the Division I UIL playoffs will prove to be among the most entertaining months of football of all time.