OAKWOOD — As the ball landed incomplete in West Hall’s end zone to end the game, several Johnson and West Hall players laid on the ground, some disappointed, some relieved, and all exhausted from another Battle of Oakwood.
Or should we say, Shootout in South Hall.
Johnson senior quarterback Anthony Prophet rushed for 174 yards and a school record six touchdowns, and West Hall junior quarterback Shunquez Stephens threw for 452 yards and six touchdowns as the two signal-callers put on individual performances for the ages on Friday at Spartans Stadium.
Last year, Stephens got the best of his crosstown rivals, but this year the night belonged to Prophet and the Knights, who held on for a 49-45 win.
"This is a must win," Prophet said. "It’s big to be the king of Oakwood."
That was evident throughout the night in a back-and-forth battle that finally came to an end as a Stephens’ pass in the end zone fell incomplete as time expired.
"I told the guys that it was going to come down to who had the ball last," West Hall coach Mike Newton said. "We had a chance at the end, and unfortunately, we couldn’t convert."
That wasn’t the case a year ago for the Spartans (0-7, 0-3 Region 7B-AAA), who edged the Knights in a 56-55 contest at the Dungeon.
With revenge on their minds, the Knights (2-8, 1-1) did everything to ensure they would regain the title of best team in Oakwood. That included calling for an onside kick after Prophet’s third touchdown cut West Hall’s lead to three points midway through the third quarter.
"I figured it was better to go for it then than later," Johnson coach Paul Friel said. "I told the guys if it was there, I would give him the thumbs up."
With his coaches’ permission, Chris Henry tapped the ball 10 yards in front of him and 10 Johnson players jumped on it. Eight plays later, Prophet rolled out for a 7-yard touchdown to give his team the lead.
That lead, like the majority of the leads in the game, didn’t last long.
On West Hall’s ensuing possession, Stephens connected with Brandon Fuqua for an 86-yard touchdown to retake the lead. Fuqua, who finished with 144 yards receiving, was one of two Spartans to record more than 100 yards receiving. Ishmail Nuckles was the other, catching nine passes for 202 yards and four touchdowns.
"Both offenses were clicking," said Friel, whose team kept the ball on the ground all night, rushing for 439 yards and attempting just three passes. "We wanted to make it a field possession game and felt that if we could run the ball and get ahead we could win the game."
West Hall’s mantra was the opposite, relying on the passing game to put up points. Stephens, who also had 60 yards rushing, completed 25 of his 37 attempts to six different receivers.
At the end of the game, Stephens left the field on a golf cart with an undisclosed injury.
"He takes a beating every game and keeps coming back," Newton said of Stephens. "He tries to make a play every chance he can."
So too did his quarterbacking counterpart Prophet, who scored all but one of the Johnson touchdowns. The only other Johnson player to score was Mantevius Rucker, who finished with 125 yards and was one of the players lying on the ground in exhaustion at the conclusion of the game.
"Both teams fought hard and were looking for a win," Newton said.
That was evident with the expressions and congratulatory messages that were exchanged after the game, including one from Friel, who tapped Stephens on the leg before he left the field.
"Shunquez gets better and better every year," Friel said. "He’s courageous and we had trouble containing him."
Luckily for Friel, he had a record-setting quarterback on his side that was also tough to contain.