After appearing to have been grabbed and pushed away by a Salisbury receiver from reaching a long pass what ended up being a game-tying touchdown catch by the senior Panther late in the game Friday, Westran defensive back Parker Howard found himself in a déja vu matchup situation with the game on the line.
Only this time the 5'10 sophomore out-played the Panthers 6'4 Zach Wyatt on a long pass thrown from Wyatt's twin brother Austin, as Howard came down with an interception at the Westran 46 with 0:23 left to play.
"They have some big-play receivers and I happened to be covering one of them. I saw the football coming and it was falling a little short so I went after it and I got the interception," said Howard, who would not comment on what may have taken place when Wyatt caught a 20-yard touchdown reception against his coverage to tie the score at 27 and yet there were no yellow flags laying on the ground to support that claim.
"We knew this was a big-time game, and beating Salisbury like this is our biggest and most meaning win of the season so far," Howard said.
Howard's effort with that pick preserved a Hornets 33-27 thrilling home victory among a pair of Class 1 state-ranked teams.
"We made some mistakes, but we were able to pick one another up somehow on another play and in doing that we came away with a win," said Westran football coach Curtis Jasper.
Records of both Lewis & Clark Conference teams went to 6-1 for the season and 2-1 in the LCC.
Westran of Huntsville, ranked 10th in the latest state football poll, got off to a fast start with a 21-0 first quarter lead that held through halftime only to watch it evaporate in the second half.
"Obviously we stared out great but we did not finish out the half as well as I would have liked,"" said Jasper. "With their athletes, we knew having a 21-point lead there still no comfort level there. Salisbury has so much speed and height at the outside edges that it makes things tough. We had to make a lot of adjustments, and some of them worked."
No. 2 ranked Salisbury came roaring back after intermission; especially in the fourth when the Panthers scored three touchdowns leading up to Zach Wyatt's TD reception with 7:27 left that tied the game.
Salisbury's first score was a 25-yard run by quarterback Austin Wyatt with 6:56 remaining in the third.
The Panthers trailed 27-7 when Salisbury's first play to open the fourth quarter ended up being a 17-yard touchdown pass to 6'4 senior Austin Francis.
Two minutes later Westran's Zach Morgan coughed up the football and Salisbury recovered it at the Westran 43. The Wyatt brothers found one another on the first play from scrimmage with a 43-yard TD pass making the score 27-19.
Page 2 of 3 - The Hornets' ensuing possession resulted in another turnover when a Jacoby pass was tipped and the ball was intercepted by Salisbury sophomore Brady Francis at the Westran 25.
Three snaps later the Wyatt twins hooked up again for that "questionable" 20-yard TD pass, and then Austin Francis would catch the 2-pt. conversion pass to tie the score.
"It did not look good for us in the beginning and that first quarter made the difference for us in this game," said Salisbury football coach Kirk Stott. "I thought from the second quarter on we owned the game for the most part, but that is why you have to play four quarters of football. We played three real well, but we gave up a couple of big plays for touchdowns in the first one and that came back to hurt us."
"This ended up being a real good football game between us, which is what I was expecting. I'm proud of our kids. Everyone played hard and we really battled back strong after being down by three early touchdowns."
Following Wyatt's game-tying touchdown catch, there was enough time on the clock for 10th-ranked Westran to score.
On their ensuing possession starting at the 50, Westran offensive coordinator Lance Massey seemingly gave sophomore quarterback Zane Jacoby full control on what ended up being an impressive 12-play game-winning scoring drive.
Jacoby ran the football 10 times and he completed both of his pass attempts - a 12 yard catch by sr. Zach Morgan and a 6 yd. reception by sr. Clay Ames - en route to facing a fourth-and-inches situation just outside the Panthers' 1 yard line and only a minute left in the game.
Jacoby received the snap, went back two steps giving his offensive line time to labor in the trenches and execute their jobs, and then he ran towards his left finding a seam to bulldoze his way into the end zone.
Jacoby also connected with Ames on a 26-yard passing route for a score in the first quarter. Ames would have two receptions netting 33 yards during the evening.
At game's end, Jacoby rushed 32 times for 184 yards and three touchdowns, with one being a 54-yarder during the first ball possession. He also completed 4-of-8 passes for 102 yards, including a pair of touchdowns and he threw two interceptions.
Morgan carried the football eight times gaining 49 yards for Westran.
"Zane is a tough kid. He's proved that all season and has been very successful. As good and athletic as Zane has shown on the football field, you also have to give a lot of credit to the team because he has a lot of good kids around him making plays too that often go unnoticed," said coach Jasper. "Our line played another good game for us. I think they were undersized by about 14-pounds per position so we gave up some size, but our guys played in their right with them and were tough."
Page 3 of 3 - Following Jacoby's final touchdown run, the extra point kick attempt failed and Westran led 33-27.
Salisbury was given one last ball possession starting on their own 35, but only 0:59 remaining to reach its goal.
Knowing that the Panthers were forced to throw the football, Westran blitzed quarterback Austin Wyatt hard.
A bad snap ended up pushing the line of scrimmage back 12 yards with Wyatt landing on the football.
The Hornets once again pressured Wyatt on the next play but he escaped the grasp of a would-be tackler and launched a long pass toward the Westran sidelines intended for his brother Zach.
However, the pass missed its mark and Howard was there to secure the win for Westran with his interception and returned it about 14 yards with just 0:23 left.
"When Parker came down with that interception to preserve our win, that was incredible. He did a nice job reading the ball and adjusted," said coach Jasper. "That pass if completed could have gone for 6 if it wasn't for the kind of defensive pressure we put on their quarterback as he threw the ball."
Latamondeer of Salisbury rushed for 83 yards on 16 carries, and Daniel Linneman ran four times for 18 yards. Quarterback Wyatt finished with 16 yards due to loss yardage situations as a result of bad snaps.
Austin Wyatt completed 6 of 13 passes for 110 yards. His brother Zach made two receptions netting 63 yards and two scores.