On a sloppy field and with a cold rain falling the junior high city championship was decided fittingly, in perfect football weather on the final play of the game as Southwest's Trevor Leslie and Preston Schenck corralled South's Jon Pederson two yards short of a tying touchdown. The defensive stop gave Southwest a 34-28 victory over South in overtime to secure its third-straight city title Thursday at Lawrence High.
"This is the type of game as a football player you always want to play in," mud-covered Bulldog running back Matt Cole said.
Cole and fellow running back Cody Oller combined for five touchdowns and as the day unfolded the Bulldogs would need all the points they could get against a fired-up Cougar squad.
Oller started the scoring on the Bulldogs' opening drive with a 28-yard touchdown run to put Southwest up, 6-0.
South, as it would all day, had an answer.
On the Cougars' opening drive, and with the running game initially going nowhere, quarterback Chris Gaston hit receiver Clarke Cunningham for 50 yards and the tying touchdown.
The two teams would trade touchdowns and two-point conversions in the second quarter.
Cole slogged through 15 yards of mud to put the Bulldogs up 14-6, and Gaston equalized with a quarterback keeper from 12 yards out.
The 14-14 score held until just before halftime ended an unusually long drive for a junior high game with a 3-yard run to put the Bulldogs up 20-14 at the break.
"In the junior high game there aren't a lot of sustained drives," Bulldog coach Skip Bennett said. "Most of the time you're looking for the big play, but today was different."
The Cougars came out of the break and again answered the Bulldogs' final first-half touchdown. South drove down the field and finished the opening second-half drive with Adam Taylor grabbing a Gaston pass for a touchdown to tie the game at 20.
The teams traded possessions in the muck of midfield, before the South launched what appeared to be a momentum stealing drive.
At the Bulldog 40-yard line, South decided to go for a fourth-and-five conversion, but the Bulldog defense had other ideas.
Gaston faded back in the pocket, but was met by two Bulldog defenders, who tackled Gaston and forced a fumble. Southwest's Zach Pence picked up the ball and lumbered to the Cougar 20-yard line before being brought down.
"Boy that was a big play," Bennett said. "That was the only turnover of the game and it was just huge."
Southwest wasted no time taking advantage of the gift, as Cole ran in from 15 yards out for his third touchdown of the game. The conversion was good to give the Bulldogs a 28-20 lead with less than four minutes left in the game.
But as they had done all game, South came back.
Gaston led the offense to the Bulldog 35-yard line and again faced a fourth down conversion, this time for the game. This time the Cougar quarterback got the ball off in time and found Cunningham for a touchdown. Gaston backed up his throw with the two-point conversion to tie the game at 28. The Bulldogs ran out the clock sending the game to overtime.
In the extra period the Bulldogs started things off at the Cougar 10 and on fourth down, Oller punched through to put Southwest up by six. The conversion failed, giving South hope for another answering touchdown.
The Cougars possession came down to yet another fourth down, as three straight running plays failed to gain ground. South also hurt its cause with a false start penalty that set them back an extra five yards.
The penalty set up the final play as Gaston lobbed the ball to Pederson who turned around and was promptly greeted by Leslie and Schenck.
The Bulldogs, their once white jerseys now brown, erupted into celebration.
Despite the loss, South coach Kyle Stucky could not have been prouder of his team.
"They left it all out there on the field," Stucky said. "They played with a lot of heart and I'm very proud of how they played."
On the other side, Cole deferred his own success to the effort of his teammates.
"It feels so good to do it for the third-straight year," Cole said. "It wasn't just one of us, it was everyone out here that did it today. We worked hard and everyone came out here and played hard."
The Cougars will have one more game before the season ends, a make-up road game against Chisolm Trail on Monday. But even though South will have a chance to play again, Thursday's loss will not easily be forgotten.
"This one's going to hurt for awhile," Stucky said. "This game was for the city bragging rights. But were coming together as a team and playing really well. So hopefully they'll take that with them on the field Monday."