By Thomas Sellers Jr.
November is when stories of gridiron glory are written.
Legends are born and plays that will live on forever are created. In Brighton Friday night, the names Malik Jackson, Nick Johnson and Andre Golden joined the Pantheon of Cardinals on one play.
The combination collaborated on a double-pass late in the fourth quarter against Henry County to help force overtime in the first round playoff contest. But it was Henry County who survived 41-40 in overtime to advance to write another chapter in this year’s Class 5A Football Playoffs.
“It was just a double pass,” Brighton Head Coach Robin Jacobs said. “It was a freshman who threw it. We’ve run it probably 10 times this year and hit a touchdown each time on it. At the end of the game they were trying to run the clock out. We were trying to conserve our timeouts. It worked like we need to and we ended up getting the ball back. We hit the one play, the long one and we got the two points.”
The journey of 81 points entertained and thrilled those in attendance in the Brighton Football Stadium.
Early it appeared the Henry County Patriots 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.
“We had stopped them on fourth down and then they scored,” Jacobs said. “The kickoff we fumbled, so they had scored two times like that. I thought that was the ball game. We felt like we had missed some opportunities our first two drives. We missed a long pass. We felt we could move the ball. We knew we would get back into the game. At halftime we felt we should have been ahead.”
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 sophomore wideout Nick Johnson. 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.
“If they had scored in the second overtime, they would have had the opportunity to end it,” Jacobs said. “We’ve had trouble stopping them. We would have kicked it and they would have went for two too in the second one. We wouldn’t have had another opportunity to get it. Three yards is the only thing that separated us. They really haven’t stopped us. I was trying to get to the next round.”
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.
The 2016 season ended with a 7-4 record for the Cardinals and a second-place finish in league.
“When you look back at the whole thing, you’re going to look at 15 points away from victories,” Jacobs concluded. “It was one tonight. It was 6 points for the district championship. Then we lost a game by 3 and then 4 in another. It was real close with the the what ifs. I think we were ready to play with everybody. We just came up short. We’ve got to find that one more point in those games.”