WESTFIELD — With 2:42 remaining and a trip to the Division 2 Super Bowl on the line, Springfield Central was fresh off a tremendous defensive stand.
St. John’s of Shrewsbury was forced to punt from its 32. For the first time in the back-and-forth game, it looked as if the Pioneers were going to lose.
That’s when everything changed.
Central’s senior running back Troy Morrow, who had been efficient the entire game, ran into a brick wall of Pioneer red and white. Suddenly the ball was rolling behind the pile and before a Golden Eagle could blink, St. John’s had covered it.
Forty-six yards, a minute and thirty-five seconds and a huge fourth-and-2 conversion later, junior Shane Combs took a handoff from quarterback Drew Smiley and blew straight up the middle for a 15-yard touchdown and a 37-32 lead for St. John’s of Shrewbury.
Springfield Central put the celebration on hold, however, beginning its final drive on its 39 and moving into the red zone. With 26 seconds remaining, Malik Johnson caught a 15-yard pass at the 14-yard line, but he was held inbounds, forcing Central to burn a timeout. Then senior quarterback Cody Williams rolled to his right searching for a target. The pass rocketed high in the direction of 5-foot-10-inch tight end Luis Ortiz, who somehow managed to leap above defenders and make contact with the ball before tipping it into the air. A diving Smiley came down with the ball in the end zone, clinching the victory for the Pioneers and a trip to Gillette.
St. John’s (S) will play Mansfield Dec. 7 in the Division 2 Super Bowl.
“I didn’t even know what was happening,” Smiley said with a chuckle. “I was playing the overthrow and I see the tip and the ball’s up in the air . . . ” he said as he trailed off and smiled.
It was a championship play, the poise required not lost on coach John Andreoli.
“Championship teams don’t get rattled,” he began, his team encircling him on a knee. “They believe they have a chance to win. We did that today.”
Despite the dramatic victory, it was nearly the Golden Eagles storming the field when time expired.
After recovering a fumbled Springfield kickoff return to start the half, Smiley hit junior Davon Jones for a one-play, 28-yard touchdown strike to break open an 11-point lead. Jones beat his defender and made an athletic leaping grab before falling to the ground for what felt like a game-securing score.
Jones ended a Golden Eagle threat by intercepting a Williams pass as the third period expired.
The Pioneers pounded the ball down the gut of the Central front four, with Combs dragging defenders clinging to his legs on one run. Just as the game seemed out of reach, the ball slipped loose and senior DaQuan Clemons covered it for Central.
Morrow pounded the ball seven straight plays for Central before Clemons gave the Golden Eagles their first lead of the half, 32-31, with a 2-yard sweep to the right.
“We just came out together,” Jones said. “My heart dropped on the [Combs] fumble, but Coach told us we had to keep our heads up. The defense had to go play. My heart skipped when I saw the tip. I can’t explain the feeling, but it’s great.”