Quando Ieremia had trouble fighting back tears. His Hurricane Tigers had just been beaten 28-27 in overtime at home against the Skyline Eagles after trailing 20-0 in the third quarter.
Skyline’s Seth Kaelin took a running back toss to the left side and waltzed in for the game winning two-point conversion. Hurricane was stunned.
“We keep pushing. We keep pushing, man. We’re tired right now, but hey, keep pushing. Every play,” Ieremia told his teammates at halftime.
Friday’s game was another chapter in what’s been an emotional last couple months for the Tigers community that’s had to lay Charlie Sefita and Pierce Adamson to rest. A banner reading #Sefitastrong hung on the visiting bleachers. Every Tiger player had the Nos. 18 and 52 written in black ink on their biceps as tribute to Sefita and Adamson.
Half of the red-and-black-clad Tiger fans were wearing shirts with the No. 18 on them, Adamson’s number.
Jacob Carr, the Tigers’ leading rusher from a year ago, then tore his ACL this summer. Any normal human being would be out for at least six months. He also fought back tears when he promised his team after the game that he would return this season. Earlier in the game he brought the players together in a huddle on the sideline to pump them up.
And at the end, Hurricane’s unwillingness to quit paid off in what might be an early front runner for play of the year.
Here's the touchdown pic.twitter.com/HglbLUhlth— Patrick Carr (@patrickcarr_) August 20, 2016
Trailing 20-14 with less than eight seconds left and with the ball at their own 30-yard line, Hurricane quarterback Josh Parker heaved the ball down the field.
The ball didn’t come close to the end zone, but it didn’t have to. The ball was tipped by an Eagles’ defensive back and into the hands of Tobie Swenson who scored and tied the game at 20-20. Pandemonium erupted on the sideline and in the stands.
“I was just getting ready for a tip, I was just hoping for the best,” Swenson said.
The extra point, pushed back 15 yards after an excessive celebration penalty, went wide left and the game went into overtime.
Joe Armijo punched in from a yard out and the Tigers took a 27-20 lead. But Skyline went straight down the field and scored from the 1-yard line, then took a timeout to go for the win.
For the game to even get to overtime looked unlikely in the third quarter. Hurricane’s offense had sputtered in the first half, and was only starting to find its feet in the second half.
Meanwhile, Hockman gashed the Tigers defense in the first half as Skyline took the early 7-0 lead with an eight-yard pass from Hockman to Briggs Binford. Saione Matagi had two touchdown runs, one from five yards and the other from 73 yards as the Eagles extended the lead to 20-0.
The Tigers lost two fumbles and committed several penalties, hindering an offense that couldn’t do much against Skyline’s fast and hard-hitting defense. That’s when Ieremia did his talking.
“(Ieremia) brought the heart out of our team and if we play like that the rest of the season, good things will happen,” said Swenson, who had a look of disbelief on his face.
Near the end of the third quarter, Hurricane put together a drive with Parker running for a first down. Noah Humphrey converted on a fourth down to keep the drive going. Parker then connected on a 20-yard touchdown pass.
The Tigers blocked Hockman’s pooch punt on fourth down and went straight down the field. Humphrey picked up 17 yards on the ground to give them a first and goal and Jaron Cordova, who suffered leg cramping earlier in the game, ran in from four yards out to make it 20-14.
Hurricane forced Skyline to punt on its next possession thanks in part to Steve Campbell’s huge tackle for loss on third down. The Tigers started from the 5-yard line with 1:27 left. Eighty-seven seconds later, Swenson sprinted into the end zone and tied the game.
Head coach Steve Pearson said the team made a lot of mistakes, but that a couple of adjustments in the running game really helped in the second half. That, and he set a simple goal of just getting a first down.
Though the loss was heartbreaking to some, such as Ieremia, Pearson isn’t discouraged.
“The time of most improvement in a football season comes between week one and week two,” head coach Steve Pearson said.
Follow Patrick Carr on Twitter @patrickcarr_ or call him at (435) 231-3834