The MAIS 8-Man football season came down to the final seconds to determine a state champion and the Calhoun Academy Cougars came up inches short.
Trailing 29-28, the Cougars drove 64 yards, within an inch of the goal line, having burned almost all of the 8:35 remaining in the game, when they faced a third and goal with 58 seconds remaining.
Coming out of a timeout, the Cougars attempted a quick-snap to catch Russell Christian off-guard. QB Hunter Harmon took the snap and easily pushed forward over the goal line, but the officials ruled all of the Cougars weren't set and backed them up to the 5-yard line.
“I’m not real sure about it, but that’s just part of the game,” Calhoun Academy Coach Tim Melton said.
With all three timeouts remaining, the Cougars held and regained possession at the Russell 41 yard line with 7.9 seconds left. Harmon hit Danny Joe Norman with a deep pass at the 4-yard line and the clock stopped with two seconds left to move the chains. The Cougars rushed to the line and spike the ball, but the officials ruled time expired before the end of the play. Game over.
Russell players charged the field in celebration while the Cougars, having just completed the greatest football season in school history, sunk in heartbreak.
“We never quit,” Calhoun Academy Coach Tim Melton said. “I couldn’t be prouder."
The Cougars finished the season 11-2 with both losses to Russell, 13-0.
“Coming from a school that’s never done anything to playing for a state championship, God’s blessed this little place so much and He’s going to continue to bless it,” Melton said.
The Cougars were the first to score when Kyle Carter, who finished with 116 yards and two touchdowns, punched it in from two yards out in the closing minutes of the opening quarter. Carter would score on the 2-point conversion for an 8-0 Cougar lead.
Russell scored the next two touchdowns – 18 and 75-yard passes from Jacon Howse to Ashton Temple – to take a 16-8 lead.
Carter's second touchdown, a 3-yard run, pulled the Cougars within 16-14. Russell immediately answered with a touchdown drive, but the 2-point try failed for a 22-14 score.
The Cougars then closed the half with a touchdowns drive set up by a Danny Joe Norman interception. Norman recorded the touchdown on an 8-yard pass from Harmon with 25 seconds left for a 22-20 score at halftime.
"People don't know the aches and pains that boys going through," Melton said. "He played on a broke foot last year. He's got turf toe on three of his toes from the last time we played Russell. A gimped up Danny Joe is better than most. The kid plays with a lot of heart and he went after it today."
Calhoun Academy's ground attack chewed up most of the third quarter clock and they eventually found the end zone on a 29-yard pass from Harmon to Norman. The two connected again on the 2-point conversion for a 28-22 lead with 2:32 remaining in the third quarter.
Russell responded with a touchdown drive and extra point to reclaim the lead at 29-28 with 8:35 to play.
"Those eight seniors left everything on this field," Melton said. "They have nothing to be ashamed of."