North Hall coach David Bishop stood at midfield, hands on his hips, and finally exhaled.
That one took a few years off you, didn’t it, coach?
In a bizarre game that featured three dropped touchdown passes, three others negated by holding and saw Pickens come a half-yard short of potentially tying it up on the final play, the Trojans ultimately prevailed 16-8 on Friday night at The Brickyard.
After North Hall (3-0) won its first two games by a combined eight points, Bishop’s squad again showed it has the moxie to pull out a nail-biter.
“I’ll take 3-0,” the third-year coach said. “I think some of it is maturity. A lot of our seniors have been playing for three years, and they’ve had their backs against the wall. They’ve lost close ones, and now they have the maturity to win some.”
The Dragons (1-2) snapped the ball on fourth-and-4 from the Trojans’ 5-yard line with five seconds to go, poised to punch it in against a defense on its heels. Junior running back Dylan Huffman ran around left end and appeared to pick up the first down, but his dive for the end zone came up just inches short as the clock expired.
“(The officials) said he didn’t quite get in,” said Pickens coach Chris Parker, who spent several minutes comforting his visibly emotional players after the game. “He came up a little short, and the clock ran out right then.”
At the outset of the contest, few could have expected it to have such a frantic finish.
North Hall’s bruising Wing-T offense marched 70 yards in almost eight minutes, with senior fullback Kyle Bacus (19 carries, 107 yards) capping the 14-play drive on a 2-yard scoring plunge. The Trojans chewed up clock and moved the ball well in the first half, but penalties constantly sabotaged promising drives.
Pickens, however, struggled to get into a rhythm for most of the game and squandered its first of three scoring chances in the second quarter. A wide-open Trevon Hawkins dropped a slightly overthrown ball in the end zone, and that wouldn’t be his last gaffe.
North Hall extended its lead to 13-0 just 26 seconds before halftime following a wacky series of plays.
The Trojans saw touchdowns of 37 and 27 yards — both screen passes — get overturned by holding penalties. Junior running back Cutter Sanford’s 5-yard scoring run, however, stood despite the extra point going awry.
“We made some mental mistakes tonight that we just can’t make if we want to go far this season.” Bishop said after his team committed 11 infractions for 87 yards.
After stopping the Dragons on fourth-and-2 near midfield to start the second half, North Hall had a 54-yard touchdown heave called back for — you guessed it — holding. Junior Peyton Mavity eventually turned the drive into points with a 25-yard field goal.
Pickens managed to convert a fourth-and-6 on its next drive, which ended with senior running back Chris Pittman’s 8-yard touchdown as the fourth quarter began. Junior quarterback Jacob Brumby hit Huffman in the flats for the two-point conversion that made it 16-8.
Then came the wild fourth quarter.
The Trojans nearly converted a fake punt on fourth-and-22, which Bishop said was a botched play. Then Hawkins dropped what would have been a 22-yard touchdown pass for the Dragons on fourth-and-11, but Pickens forced a three-and-out for its final drive that came so close to tying the game.
“We’ve been on the other end of it. We were diving in and we came up short once,” Bishop said with a smile.
“It’s good to be on the other side of it.”