When a fourth down pass by Oliver Springs quarterback Blake Crass fell incomplete — just barely — in the end zone shortly after 11 p.m. on Friday night, the partisan crowd at Jim May Stadium could exhale. Finally.
The Indians scored on a 10-yard Bryson Buttram run to start the fourth overtime period, then stiffened their backs defensively to keep the Bobcats out of the end zone, escaping with a 26-20 victory in the longest game in the school’s history.
The game had been delayed nearly an hour due to lightning. Then, after the third and fourth quarters moved quickly thanks to both teams keeping the ball on the ground and the clock running, it took a marathon session of four overtime periods for a winner to be decided.
“It was just about the most intriguing thing I’ve ever been a part of,” Oneida coach Tony Lambert said of the overtime thriller. “I can’t imagine how Oliver Springs feels. (But) they should be so proud of their kids, the way they played. You just hated to see somebody lose that game.”
The overtime sessions were full of dramatics, including missed extra points that would’ve resulted in walk-off victories, fourth down touchdowns and big play after big play by either defense. In fact, the entire night was about the defenses. There wasn’t much offense to speak of, with Kolby Morgan’s 66-yard touchdown on the second play from scrimmage in the second half being one of the few highlights for either team. Oliver Springs’ lone touchdown in regulation came after a 61-yard fumble return set the Bobcats up inside the Indians’ 10-yard-line.
In fact, to underscore the defense’s impact on the game, the two teams combined for just 103 yards of total offense and three first downs in the first half. When Morgan ripped off a 66-yard scoring run to tie the game just before the lightning delay in the second half, he more than doubled his team’s offensive production.
Oliver Springs was never able to mount a sustained drive that ended in points; the Bobcats didn’t have a sustained drive at all until their final possession of regulation, but that ended with a Saylor Wilson interception at the 10-yard-line that kept the Indians’ hopes alive.
Oliver Springs finished the game with just 138 yards of offense.
“Defensively, we played great tonight,” Lambert said. “We gotta get some things shored up on special teams and we got some guys maybe that if they’re gonna play they’re gonna have to dig a little deeper to stay on the field, but I’m just so proud of our kids tonight.”
The game featured two teams picked by coaches to finish as runners-up in their respective regions — Oliver Springs in Region 2-A and Oneida in Region 2-2A. And for four quarters and then some, they stood toe-to-toe like heavyweight fighters slugging it out, neither side refusing to give in.
The Bobcats appeared to have the upper hand in the first half, using a stingy defense to keep the Indians from scoring even though Oneida dominated field position, then using the 61-yard fumble return to set up the only touchdown of the first two quarters.
The Indians then flipped things in an instant as the third quarter began, with Morgan’s long run tying the game and resetting the script.
Oliver Springs wrested the momentum back later in the third quarter, picking off a pass when it appeared the Indians were about to take the lead.
The Bobcats appeared set to win the game in regulation when Landon Galyon made an improbable catch off a deflection for a 32-yard reception on second and 27. But the scoring threat ended two plays later when Wilson — who had deflected the earlier pass only to see it fall into Galyon’s hands — came up with a big interception.
In overtime, Oneida scored on a fourth down pass from Jakob Hamilton to Aaron Bowling — the first career touchdown pass for Hamilton, who earned the starting nod after fellow senior Elijah West suffered a summer knee injury — just as it appeared that Oliver Springs was set to pull off a thrilling win.
Morgan went nine yards for a score on the second play of the second overtime, but Oneida missed the extra point. Special teams — normally a strong point — were an adventure for the Indians throughout the night. Oliver Springs then had another opportunity to walk away with the win when three penalties against the Indians in one series got the Bobcats close enough for Crass to sneak in on fourth down. But they missed their own PAT, giving the Indians new life.
Oneida’s defense continued to impress in the third overtime, and Bowling — who had the biggest game of his career — came up with his second interception of the game to end the series. But Oneida missed a 19-yard field goal that would’ve won it, and it was Oliver Springs’ turn to celebrate.
The celebration was short-lived, though. Buttram ripped off a 10-yard run on the first play of the ensuing series. And even though the subsequent two-point try failed when the officials ruled incorrectly that Oneida must try the conversion since it was the fourth overtime, it wouldn’t matter. After the Indians stuffed Oliver Springs running back Trey Boswell inside the five-yard-line, the Bobcats twice threw the ball into the end zone, and twice came up empty, allowing the Indians to escape.
“I’m so proud of our kids,” Lambert said. “Just the way they kept coming and kept bringing it. When it looked a little grim, they just bowed up. We challenged them hard and they brought it hard. It’s so rewarding as coaches to see that.
“Our kids just kept finding a way to dig a little deeper,” he added.
Friday’s game was the first of a grueling 10-game slate for the Indians, one that features nine playoff teams from 2018. Five of the teams the Indians will face over the next nine games are currently ranked among the Top 10 teams in the state in their respective classification.