HILLIARD — Branford had two 2-point conversion chances to beat Hilliard but misfired on pass attempts, the last one in overtime, and lost at Hilliard 34-33 in a Region 3-1A Class 1A quarterfinal playoff game Friday.
The first missed 2-point conversion attempt by Branford came after an exciting and tense-filled last-minute drive in regulation, which ended with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Seth Heiderman to Junior Cress. That tied the game at 27 but the Bucs were forced to go for 2 because kicker Lance Mathis was injured late in the game.
Branford called the Nick Foles’ Philly Special play but the pass was incomplete.
“It’s a pretty little play,” Branford coach Tim Clark said. “We just didn’t execute it.”
Branford’s last-chance TD drive started with 1:49 left on its own 11-yard line. That came after finally stopping Hilliard on a drive that started with 9:44 left.
Heiderman caught fire and completed five of seven passes for 87 yards on the drive. The game-tying possession began with a completion to Clay Wiliams to the 33-yard line; next Heiderman found Junior Cress for 37 yards and Colton Leibold made a nice falling catch for 12 yards at the Hilliard 18-yard line.
An offensive pass interference call pushed the ball back and Heiderman spiked the ball with 18 seconds left. On the next play Heiderman found Cress in the end zone for a 19-yard TD completion.
Clark called the TD reception a “wheel” route, and citing some earlier mistakes by Cress, Clark said he was told, “Go make a play and make up for it, and he did.
“We thought that with his (Cress) size, he’s a match-up problem, so we put him in the slot, and we got what we wanted with a linebacker on him and if you get him to the outside he’s excellent on 1-on-1 situations,” Clark said. “I was surprised he got behind the defender where it wasn’t a jump ball situation. He made two good catches on two good routes.”
In overtime the Red Flashes got on the ball first and on third-and-4, quarterback Lyle Bennett passed to Jason Sheffield for three yards to the 1, and on fourth down he pitched left to Tywaun Lee for a TD to put Hilliard up 34-27.
On that play, Branford’s call was “send everybody,” Clark said. “We put the safety that way (the side Lee ran) and he outran our corners.
“They have a couple really good football players, and one is Lee, who is one of the best if not the best football players we saw all year. “
On Branford’s overtime possession, Heiderman ran it in from 8 yards and it was going to be a win or a loss with the kicker out. The Bucs threw into the end zone but Hilliard intercepted to end the game.
“We ran the QB draw, and it was beautiful,” Clark said.
Leading 27-21 Hilliard got the ball with 9:44 left in regulation and put together an impressive drive that started deep in their own territory and ended with 1:49 left in regulation at Branford’s 10-yard line.
The drive included pivotal rushing and pass completions to Lee, who rushed for 770 yards for the Red Flashes this year.
Early in the drive Lee rushed 10 yards for a first down; then receiver D.J. Coston got open on a second-and-13 play for a first down.
Branford led 21-7 at halftime but Coston caught three TD passes in the 3rd-quarter and Hilliard moved in front 27-21.
Clark noted the “ebbs and flows,” of the game that came down to a few plays.
“They looked a little defeated when we went up 21-7,” Clark said. “But they made some adjustments and they played hard.”
Branford fumbled the ball away on the first play of the second half, and Hilliard scored to make it 21-13.
“That’s a good playoff football team,” Clark said. “They were at home and they started executing better.”
In the time-consuming drive, Hilliard got its next first down at their 47-yard line when Branford was called for offsides on a third-and-1 play. Next Lee ran for 11 yards and into Branford’s side of the field. A few plays later Branford tightened up and after a pitch to Lee resulted in a loss, Hilliard was faced with a fourth-and-10 play. But Bennett, who was brilliant in the second half, found Jason Sheffield for 14 yards for a first down at Branford’s 20-yard line with 3:24 left.
That’s when Mathis went down with cramps in his leg.
Clark said Mathis had been out for a few weeks and had been “bugging me to play, and he was getting better. He’s a senior and he wanted to play and he was a warrior on the defensive line.”
With 3:59 left, Branford defensive back Markell Pugh got in front of a pass attempt to the left sidelines at the line of scrimmage but couldn’t hold onto the ball. Every Hilliard player was behind the two-way player, who attempted the catch while in motion. On fourth-and-14, Hilliard came up a few yards short and Branford got an opportunity.
“We had a bunch of ground to cover with 1:49 left and one timeout,” Clark said. “I thought we executed perfectly. We called timeout when we needed to, and we spiked the ball when we had no timeouts.
“We were able to throw the ball in the second half, and ultimately that’s what put us in a position to win it.”