GAINESVILLE — Sunlake and Gainesville played down to the wire in a physical game that tested the fortitude of both teams in Friday’s Class 6A region quarterfinal.
The Hurricanes (9-2) scored 10 points in the final 1:37 after Seahawks senior quarterback Esteban LeWallen found senior Ricardo Williams wide open on a wheel route for a 67-yard touchdown.
That appeared to be the game-winning play, but 30 yards of celebration penalties were enforced on the ensuing kickoff, which resulted in Oregon commit Tony James returning the kickoff 65 yards for the touchdown with 1:26 remaining.
Sunlake (9-2) failed to do anything on its next drive. On fourth down, Gainesville’s Malion Waddell blocked a punt giving the ’Canes possession on the Sunlake 27. That set up Gainesville kicker Alex Holloway, who booted the winning field goal from 42 yards out with 8.8 seconds to send the 2012 state runnerup away with a 17-14 victory.
“We have a great bunch of guys, and unfortunately, some silly penalties by some guys who got overly excited hurt,” Seahawks coach Bill Browning said. “Our effort was fantastic tonight against a good football team with Division I kids.”
Senior Nathan Johnson ran for hard-earned yardage against the ’Canes. He had 29 carries for 120 yards and a 5-yard touchdown rush in the second quarter to give the Seahawks a 7-0 advantage.
But Gainesville’s Ahmad Ivey had a 54-yard kickoff return, plus a 15-yard personal foul was added, to give Gainesville possession at the Sunlake 31. That led to a Caelan Christian to Nick McGriff 3-yard touchdown pass to knot it at seven apiece.
Senior Joe Jean-Baptiste had an interception in the first quarter when the Sunlake defense leveled Christian on the play.
“We knew they were going to run the ball at us, and they only gave up 60 points all season,” Gainesville coach Mark Latsko said. “Our special teams played a huge factor in the game, and teams normally don’t give us chances to return kicks.”