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Hillsborough prevails over Armwood after a wild final 90 seconds

The Terriers get a leaping go-ahead touchdown, then the Hawks fumble the snap in the red zone on the final play.
Hillsborough senior linebacker Kade Francis, left, celebrates with coaches and players, including head coach Earl Garca, right, moments after the Terriers sealed up a 20-14 victory over Armwood on a last-second stop at the Hillsborough 1-yard line.
Hillsborough senior linebacker Kade Francis, left, celebrates with coaches and players, including head coach Earl Garca, right, moments after the Terriers sealed up a 20-14 victory over Armwood on a last-second stop at the Hillsborough 1-yard line. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]
Published Sep. 4

SEFFNER — With just more than four minutes left to play in Friday’s matchup with Armwood, Hillsborough could have kicked an easy field goal, making it a two-possession game and all but ending the Hawks’ night early.

Instead, the Terriers went for the end zone on fourth and 3 from the 5-yard line, and Armwood stopped the Terriers in their tracks. Moments later, the Hawks made Hillsborough pay once again when quarterback Murdolph Jones hit Malik Brown on an 81-yard touchdown pass, giving Armwood a one-point lead.

“We just challenged the team, and they stopped us, man. They stopped the hell out of us,” Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia said. “They won the second half, basically. We were out of rhythm, and I did a poor job, I thought, of play calling in the second half.”

Fortunately for Hillsborough, though, Terriers quarterback Caleb Pierce had just a little more left in the tank.

On Hillsborough’s ensuing drive, the senior, facing a fourth and 20 from just past midfield with less than 90 seconds to play, lofted a pass to Dominic Reaves, who was covered by a couple of Hawks in the end zone. The senior wide receiver made the leaping grab, giving Hillsborough the lead again just in time.

Hillsborough junior linebacker Thomas Hickman, left, and running back Jordaan Bailey, right, give senior receiver Dominic Reaves, center, many hugs and praise after Reaves hauled in the winning last-minute touchdown off a tipped ball.
Hillsborough junior linebacker Thomas Hickman, left, and running back Jordaan Bailey, right, give senior receiver Dominic Reaves, center, many hugs and praise after Reaves hauled in the winning last-minute touchdown off a tipped ball. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

Armwood attempted a last-minute rally, but it fell short, and Hillsborough beat the Hawks 20-14.

“I had a lot of time, and I saw him come open, so I was going to take a shot. I was just trying to win the game,” Pierce said. “That’s my boy Dom. We’ve been together for a while, and I trust him 100 percent. I would definitely give him a chance to go get that ball.”

Hillsborough (2-0) took control early in the night, scoring a pair of touchdowns in the first quarter on an 18-yard run from Joseph Sipp Jr. and a 1-yard run from Jordaan Bailey. Armwood, usually known for its potent offense, didn’t score until late in the third quarter, when a nice punt return set up Jones’ first touchdown pass to Brown for 5 yards.

Try as they might to get back on the board, the Terriers struggled to get much of anything going in the second half before Pierce’s big throw, and penalties slowed both teams all night.

Hillsborough pounces on a muffed punt deep in Armwood territory, setting up the second touchdown.
Hillsborough pounces on a muffed punt deep in Armwood territory, setting up the second touchdown. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

But until the final seconds, Hillsborough’s defense stood tall.

With under a minute to play, Jones connected with Brown on passes of 22, 12 and 30 yards, and with four seconds left, the Hawks had the ball on the Hillsborough 3-yard line.

On the final play of the game, Armwood (1-1) fumbled the snap. The Terriers’ good fortune was extended once more.

“(Armwood) fought their butts off, but we were able to pull this one out. We can talk about great character and all that stuff, but we got lucky down there in the end zone,” Garcia said. “We made enough errors to lose the game, so the gods of football are smiling on us tonight.”