With 7:35 remaining in the second quarter and the Florida 7A champion Raiders ahead 13-0, Bingham senior quarterback Matt Degn was looking to score on a short run and put the Miners on the board.
However, Aquinas defensive lineman Kivon Bennett — named game MVP with two forced fumbles, three tackles for loss and a sack — had other ideas.
Bennett, a Tennessee commit, got a hand on the ball, which popped free and was then picked up by Tyler Dunning, who dashed 96 yards for a touchdown to make it 20-0.
“It was a sweep. My lineman that was on me, the guard, he went away from me, so I’m chasing the play down from behind,” Bennett said. “I reached my hand in and just got the ball out.”
But the play wasn’t without its drama. As Dunning was entering the end zone, Brayden Cosper caught him from behind and knocked the ball loose. However, Dunning secured the ball after juggling it and the touchdown counted.
“I was just thinking that I had to score because it was a big part of the game,” said Dunning, a Mississippi State commit. “Actually, I didn’t think anyone was behind me because my teammate was talking to me as I was running. So I’m thinking we’re clear and I slow down, and I feel someone punch the ball out and then I just had to get it.”
During the postgame press conference, Degn took full responsibility for the play going the other way.
“I just felt like I had a gap to the right and took it. I was careless with the football and it really cost us today,” Degn said.
And Raiders head coach Roger Harriott couldn’t overstate just how crucial that play proved to be.
“That was a huge play. It changed the whole trajectory of the game,” Harriott said. “Obviously, football is a game of high emotions and momentum.”Aquinas (13-2) added a 43-yard field goal from Marco Salani before halftime to lead 23-0 at the break.
However, in the second half, it was a different story. Bingham, the Utah 5A champion, outgained Aquinas 289-93 and outscored them 25-10 with the final Raider points coming on a 23-yard field goal from Salani with 3:02 remaining, giving Aquinas a 33-12 lead.
Bingham cut that lead to 33-18 with 46 seconds left when Amoni Kaili scored on a 1-yard touchdown.
Earlier in the fourth quarter, Kaili threw a touchdown pass of 47 yards to Dax Milne.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Miners caught the Raiders off guard and recovered the onside kick.
And on the next play, Degn found Cosper streaking down the left sideline and they connected for a 44-yard touchdown to make it 33-25 with the extra point with 35 seconds remaining.
“I saw it was coming my way,” Cosper said. “Matt just threw a great ball. If that’s anywhere else, it’s incomplete. I just went up there and made a play on it.”
Bingham attempted another onside kick, but this time, Aquinas recovered near midfield. The game ended less than a minute later and Harriott admitted he was a bit relieved.
“We’re fortunate to get out of here with a win tonight,” Harriott said. “They made it extremely entertaining. We’re grateful for the opportunity (to play in this event).”
Miners coach John Lambourne, whose team finished 14-1, wasn’t surprised by the amount of fight his team showed despite trailing by 30 points after three quarters.
“Obviously, we’d loved to have won the game,” Lambourne said. “We fight like crazy every time we play. Sometimes we come out on top and other times we don’t, but I’m proud of our guys and happy for the opportunity to come here.”