By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The final score of 41-40 in the favor of the visiting Patriots in overtime makes that clear. But the journey of 81 points entertained and thrilled those in attendance in the Brighton Football Stadium.
Early it appeared Henry County would run through the Cardinals with the combination of Lukas Reynolds and Caleb McCutcheon.
The Patriots ate up nearly 7 minutes of the first quarter when McCutcheon scored on an 8-yard run to make the score 7-0 in the first quarter.
Henry County started another scoring drive toward the end of the opening period. At the 7:48 mark of the second quarter Patriot kicker Bailey Armas drilled a 23-yard field goal to make the tally 10-0.
Then the Cardinals mounted a drive to get back into the game. Brighton’s theme for the night of big plays started with a Malik Jackson quarterback keeper for 21 yards to the 2-yard line. The backfield of Malik and Malik also features senior athlete Malik Mathews. It was Mathews who capped off the drive with the short TD run to make the score 10-7.
The Brighton defense finally gave the Cardinal faithful something to cheer about by stopping the Patriots and forcing a punt.
The third phase of the game special teams betrayed the Cardinals twice in a short span. That Henry County punt bounced off the back of a Brighton player leading to a Patriots’ recovery.
McCutcheon made the Cardinals pay with a 28-yard touchdown run to make the score 17-7. On the kickoff Brighton fumbled the ball leading to another Patriots opportunity to score.
Henry County capitalized on the miscue with a 31-yard touchdown pass to make the score 24-7.
Before halftime Brighton trimmed the deficit with another big play this time Aaron Alston taking a short Jackson pass 41 yards to the house for the score. The tally was 24-13 in favor of the Patriots at the break.
It appeared Henry County seized control of the game early in the third when Reynolds capped off a nearly 6-minute drive with a 7-yard TD run. The Patriots were ahead 31-13.
The Brighton comeback started with a Nolan Combs 28-yard field goal with 32.3 seconds left in the third period.
Brighton entered the final quarter of regulation trailing 31-16. The Cardinals had a few more big plays left in their arsenal starting with Jackson to Alston 35-yard reception on fourth down. A few plays later Andre Golden snagged a 9-yard TD pass to make the score 31-23.
With 7 minutes and 26 seconds remaining in regulation, Combs did his job again by drilling a 25-yard field goal to make the score 31-26.
A few minutes later Henry County answered with a 24-yard field goal to make the deficit 8 points again.
Needing a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie, Brighton marched down the field but came up short. Henry County took over the ball with a minute and 20 seconds left.
Trying to run out the clock the Patriots fumbled the ball with less than 40 second left in the game. With new life, the Cardinals called for a double-pass play.
Jackson fired a lateral to his freshman wide out. He located a wide open Golden down field. Golden secured the pass into his hands and raced to the end zone for the 37-yard touchdown.
To tie the game, Jackson hooked up with Mathews for the two-point conversion. The contest was deadlock at 34-34.
In overtime, Reynolds gave Henry County the lead and the extra point made the score 41-34. Brighton answered in one play from the 10-yard line with Mathews extending the ball over the goal line to make the score 41-40.
Brighton attempted the extra point, when Henry County called a timeout to ice the kicker. The Cardinals elected to go for two points. And when the Patriots sacked Jackson outside the 10-yard line, Henry County earned a trip to the next round.