Jake Wyss is just a sophomore, but when his Byrd Yellow Jackets moved into field-goal position as seconds ticked away Friday, he had no reservations as to which kicker he hoped head coach Mike Suggs would choose with the game against Airline on the line.
Although senior teammate John Carlisle successfully made Byrd’s four previous kicks on the evening, Suggs called Wyss’ No. 57 when the Yellow Jackets stood 23 yards away from a pair of uprights and a share of the District 1-5A title.
The snap, the hold, the kick – everything was pure and Wyss’ boot Byrd capped a fourth-quarter rally to rob the No. 3 Vikings of an outright title on their home field with a 31-30 victory.
“You have to think of it like practice; then afterwards you can celebrate,” said Wyss who claims he was void of butterflies prior to the kick. “It feels great; feels awesome. I can’t put it into words.”
The Yellow Jackets (7-2, 4-1 District 1-5A) survived four turnovers, two defensive touchdowns from the Vikings and completed a fourth-and-14 on the game-winning drive to share the district title with Airline (8-2, 4-1) and Parkway (9-1, 4-1).
“It’s probably one of the best moments of my life; I’m not going to lie,” Byrd quarterback J.D. Lorence said. “We took (the last drive) play by play and it worked out.”
Despite the loss, Airline shares a district title for the first time since 1998.
“They were better prepared and I accept responsibility for that,” Airline head coach Bo Meeks said. “We made too many mistakes on both sides of the ball. They looked like the experienced team and we didn’t. We have to rebound; don’t know who we’re going to play – doesn’t matter. We have to play the way we’re capable of playing.”
Things looked grim for Lorence and his crew as they couldn’t hold onto the football and trailed 27-14 after the second play of the second half — Airline’s second scoop-and-score – and 30-21 at the start of the final quarter.
“We had some miscommunication and dumb mistakes,” Lorence said. “I didn’t think we could (rally), honestly, but we kept fighting.”
Byrd’s rally began with a 13-play, 65-yard drive capped by Dominic Haggerty 3-yard plunge midway through the fourth quarter. Leading by a pair, Airline had a chance to ice the game, but a dropped screen pass on third down forced a punt with 4:30 remaining.
Airline’s offense never saw the ball again.
Using 10 runs and a single, but incredibly crucial pass, Byrd milked nearly every second off the clock during its final drive that traveled 78 yards.
No play proved more pivotal than a fourth-and-14 – setup by Byrd’s sixth fumble of the night — at Airline’s 37-yard line. Lorence rolled to his right and rifled a pass to Tony Griffin, who made a nice catch near his knees just beyond the first-down marker with 1:49 left.
In addition to his big catch, Griffin collected 102 yards on five carries, including Byrd’s first score, a 76-yard touchdown run on Byrd’s third play.
“(Lorence) came off the No. 1 receiver and made a great throw,” Suggs said. “That was a big play.”
Four running plays later, Wyss’ number was called.
“(Wyss) has a little more leg; it was right at the edge of Carlisle’s distance,” Suggs said. “Both of them do a great job. He got it in there.”
The Vikings’ high-powered offense has some work to do before the playoffs begin next week. The offense turned run-heavy Friday and produced a single touchdown and three Matt Hanisee field goals.
“We thought we could run the ball against them and the way they played us, they stayed over the top (in the secondary),” said Meeks, whose offense touched the ball just twice in the second half. “We missed too many short throws – opportunities we had we needed to make. They executed their game plan and we didn’t.”
Following Airline’s 13-play opening drive that produced a field goal, Byrd struck on its third play from scrimmage. Facing third-and-14, Griffin worked the inside trap for his 76-yard score to give the Yellow Jackets the lead.
The Vikings responded early in the second quarter with a 2-yard touchdown run from Michael Nunnery. Byrd needed just six plays to regain the lead. Lorence took a keeper 39 yards, another big third-down play, to give his team a 14-10 lead midway through the second quarter.
But, suddenly, Byrd was unable to hold onto the football
Two fumbled led to 10 Airline points in the final 4 minutes of the half.
Hanisee kicked his second field goal of the game, a 26-yarder, before Vikings defensive lineman Aaron McGuire hauled in a Byrd fumble on one hop and led a convoy to the end zone from 46 yards out. The touchdown helped Airline to a 20-14 lead with 2:59 left in the half. On the second play of the second half, Airline’s Jaterious Pouncy scooped up a fumble and returned it for a 34-yard score to give Airline a 27-14 lead.
Connect with Roy Lang III on Twitter at @RoyLangIII.