Thomas Otlowski snapped it. Zach Whitehead held it. Jeff Richards crushed it through the uprights.
Richards’ 38-yard field goal with 50.4 seconds remaining completed St. Mark’s second comeback and gave the Spartans a 19-17 victory at Caesar Rodney on Friday night.
“When it came off his leg, I knew it all the way,” St. Mark’s coach John Wilson said. “It was strong, the sound of it, everything was perfect.”
The victory provided a huge boost to the Division I playoff hopes of the fifth-ranked Spartans (5-3). The third-ranked Riders dropped to 5-3 but are still unbeaten in the Henlopen North at 4-0.
The game was far from over after Richards’ dramatic kick. CR reached the Spartans 40 with 14.5 seconds left, closing in on field-goal range for kicker Tim Steindl. After a spike to stop the clock, two passes fell incomplete before Alex Kemp hit Deshawn Schuler with an intermediate toss. St. Mark’s Matt Williams tackled Schuler at the 14 as time expired.
“We thought we had to get the ball down to the 30-yard line. The 25 would have been great,” Riders coach Mike Schonewolf said. “We just came up one play short. The play that we hit at the end was the one that we actually had missed on the play before.”
A 4-yard touchdown run by Jordan Downes and a 53-yard scoring pass from Kemp to Kendall Wicks quickly pushed Caesar Rodney to a 14-0 lead with 1:46 left in the first quarter.
The Spartans got back in it with a 17-play drive that took 9:10 off the clock. The march finally stalled at the CR 14, but Richards booted a 30-yard field goal to get St. Mark’s on the board with 4:36 left in the second quarter.
The Spartans forced the Riders to punt, then went right back to work with 3:26 remaining in the half. Whitehead uncorked a 45-yard bomb to Dalton Ziemba, who hauled it in at the CR 2. T.J. Brown powered in from the 4 three plays later, but the PAT attempt was blocked to leave the Riders with a 14-9 lead at the half.
St. Mark’s took the second-half kickoff and peeled another 5:45 off the clock with a 13-play, 89-yard march. Brown scored on a 2-yard run, and Richards’ PAT put the Spartans on top 16-14.
CR turned a St. Mark’s fumble into a 24-yard field goal by Steindl for a 17-16 lead on the second play of the fourth quarter. The teams traded possessions before the Spartans launched the winning drive with 3:49 left. A 16-yard pass from Whitehead to Rhett Schweizer was the key play, and Richards took it from there.
“I knew the chance was coming. I was just warming up on the sideline,” Richards said. “I felt confident. I thought I was going to hit it if I got the chance, and I did.”
Whitehead did far more than hold for the winning kick. The senior quarterback also rushed 12 times for 50 yards and completed 10 of 18 passes for 163 yards, targeting six different receivers.
“I’ve been in a couple of situations like this before, where we got down and we came back,” Whitehead said. “It’s tough, but we have a lot of guys here that know how to play football, that know how to respond. The defense did a great job of limiting them after those two touchdowns, and we just played better offensively.”
Brown added 53 yards on 18 carries for St. Mark’s. Watkins rushed eight times for 81 yards for the Riders.