DUNCAN -- With an unbeaten season on the line and only 14 seconds on the clock, Jay Dillard found Chap Pendergrass for a 14-yard touchdown to lift the Yellow Jackets over Byrnes in a thrilling 28-22 final Friday night.
Most non-region games only dream of such a finish.
“Our kids fought until the very end. I can’t say enough about our kids and the way our program performed tonight,” said head coach Jason Tone.
Byrnes (4-5, 2-1) jumped out quickly. The opening kick was returned all the way to the Yellow Jacket 26-yard-line. Three plays later, Gabe Rogers found Elijah Barnes for a 21-yard touchdown to give the Rebels a 7-0 lead less than 2 minutes in.
The Rebels didn’t have any more success on offense until insanity ensued in the 4th.
The 1st half in general didn’t follow the Rebels’ opening-drive success. Three-and-outs and short drives stacked up.
The Yellow Jackets (9-0, 3-0) finally broke through with 2:47 left in the 1st, with Fletcher Cothran running it in from 7 yards out.
The offenses traded two 3-and-outs apiece before Byrnes put together a lengthy drive midway through the 2nd quarter but made a costly mistake, an ineligible man downfield, which cost the Rebels a 14-yard touchdown on a 4th-and-2. On the following play, the Yellow Jackets swarmed and blocked a potential 31-yard field goal.
Hanna added another just before the half, a 4-yard touchdown from Kamren Johnson to give the Jackets a 14-7 lead at the break.
Both offenses were still a bit shaky to open the new half, but the Yellow Jackets were able to expand their margin roughly 6 minutes in. Kenny Fretwell connected with Knox Whitten for a 28-yard, patented, Hanna play-action touchdown.
Both offenses stagnated for the remainder of the 3rd quarter, but Hanna’s defense was in complete control, leaving little question they’d leave Duncan still unbeaten.
Until … a failed 4th down attempt from the Yellow Jackets’ 35 gave Byrnes some much-needed momentum with 9:53 left in the game. The Rebels marched 65 yards and eventually, Kanai Cook drove it from 9 yards out for Byrnes’ first score since its opening drive.
Hanna got the ball back with 6:26 to go and drained nearly 4 minutes off the clock, but the Jackets had to punt on 4th-and-4 from their own 36. Byrnes rushed the punt, blocked it, and was set up to tie the game.
Until … only 2 plays after the blocked punt, Rogers found Cook for an 11-yard touchdown. The Rebels, being Rebels, went with a Philly Special-like 2-point conversion and got it. After a momentum shift of epic proportion, Byrnes now led 22-21.
But they left too much time on the clock for the Yellow Jackets.
With 1:57 left, Hanna ran well and dinked and dunked it down the field, ultimately setting up the game-winning Dillard-Pendergrass connection.
“We practice it every week. I tell ‘em, we can’t replicate the pressure of an actual two-minute drill but we can replicate how we handle ourselves,” said Tone. “They did a phenomenal job executing and I can’t say enough. I’m almost speechless and that’s hard for me to be.”
The Yellow Jackets look to complete a 10-0 season as they travel to Hillcrest next week.