Byrd center Ryan Downey hunched over the ball as the clock ticked to zero Thursday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome – the Yellow Jackets didn’t have time for another play.
Byrd’s Wing-T offense was in hurry-up mode with 2 minutes remaining and no timeouts, but an Archbishop Rummel sack of Tyler Howard completed the Raiders’ comeback in a 23-22 win in the Division I state championship game.
Downey’s hands were also on the ball when it shouldn’t have been to end the previous possession. Through no fault of his own, Downey caught a throwback screen on fourth down and tried to run for the first down, which resulted in an illegal touching play and a loss of down.
In what was a somber atmosphere following Byrd’s loss in the championship game – the program’s first since 1962 – even head coach Mike Suggs cracked a smile.
“(Downey’s) the center, so yeah, that was illegal touching,” Suggs said.
Most Byrd players looked more in shock than any outpouring of emotion on the field while several Rummel players made turf angels near midfield following the game.
“It was a heckuva game,” Suggs said. “I’m proud that we made it this far, but it’s disappointing because we had every opportunity to win that game.
“You look at the (two missed fourth downs), the (two turnovers) and the (two failed extra points) -but there were so many little things that happened on each play. It’s not from a lack of effort … but there were so many things that happened that you can’t just look at one.”
Rummel (10-3) wins its second consecutive state title (Class 5A in 2012) while Byrd is still looking for its first title since 1949. The Yellow Jackets (11-2) appeared in a state title game for the first time since 1962.
Junior running back Dominic Haggerty, Byrd’s most valuable player with 96 rushing yards, took a knee on the field with tears in his eyes.
“We’ll be back,” Haggerty said after the game.
Senior Louis Mills rushed for 63 yards in his final game.
Rummel took a 23-22 lead when running back Ivan Phipps sprinted 22 yards at 8:03 mark of the fourth quarter. Phipps might have lost control of the ball before crossing the goal line, but the play wasn’t clear even if video replay existed in high school football.
Three previous possessions (two Rummel, one Byrd) ended in failed fourth downs before Rummel’s go-ahead score.
Byrd led 19-10 at halftime before Rummel quarterback Chase Fourcade found Steven Dunbar for an 86-yard pass.
Fourcade threw for 219 yards on 11-of-16 with an interception, finding Dunbar six times for 144 yards.
Jackets kicker Jake Wyss nailed a 41-yard field goal to give Byrd a 22-16 lead, but the Raiders final score eclipsed that mark.
Haggerty broke around the edge for a 73-yard touchdown run to open the scoring. Rummel blocked the extra point as Byrd led just 6-0.
Byrd defensive back Kirkland McCulloch intercepted a screen pass and returned it 35 yards for the 12-7 lead at the 10:29 mark of the first half.
The Yellow Jackets then pieced together a more traditional 10-play, 65-yard drive, and quarterback Tyler Howard plunged in from 1 yard with 21 seconds left to earn a 19-10 lead.
Rummel played more of its traditional game, scoring on drives of 80 and 64 yards.
The Raiders answered Byrd’s initial score with a 2-yard Keith Fulton run to take a 7-6 lead at the 7:16 mark of the first quarter. That drive featured an Ivan Phipps 34-yard run and a 31-yard connection from Fourcade to Dunbar.
Rummel put together another long drive into Byrd’s red zone, but the Yellow Jackets forced a 27-yard Justin Mourain field goal as Byrd held to a 12-10 lead before the Jackets’ final score.
Arguably the Raiders’ most important play came on defense as Byrd threatened on its second drive. Dwayne Eugene stripped Louis Mills and Mills fought toward the goal line, and Matthew Kennedy recovered the fumble. The play came after Byrd punter Andrew Suggs completed a 39-yard pass to McCulloch on a fake punt.