[This is my column in the Sept. 25 issue of The Commercial Review.]
Last week, I wrote about how things were not going as planned for the Jay County football team, but there was no need to panic just yet.
Then the following day, the Patriots treated those in attendance to a thrilling come-from-behind victory.
It was one of the best games I’ve ever witnessed.
Those who didn’t make the trip to Bluffton really missed out.
From the sidelines, I did my best to tweet updates for those who weren’t able to make the trip.
And when Bluffton scored late in the opening quarter, making it 21-14 in favor of Jay County, I tweeted, “We may be in for a shootout.”
That was an understatement.
As the score suggested — the 104 points scored was the second-highest total in Jay County history — keeping up with the touchdowns was not an easy task. It seemed as if I was tweeting scoring plays nearly every five minutes.
It also didn’t help that someone in the stands had responded to one of my updates, saying I misidentified Kaleb Toland scoring in the third quarter for Jay County. I went into instant panic-mode, asking as many people as I could to confirm it was indeed Toland who found the end zone.
The last thing I wanted to do was leave out someone who scored, especially in what was turning out to be an exciting game.
After Toland’s TD in the third quarter, the rest of the period went scoreless, and less than a minute into the fourth both Jay County and Bluffton had found the end zone, opening the flood gates once again.
At this time, I heard from the Patriot sideline “first team to 60 wins.” I didn’t think the score was going to reach that total. Instead I figured that the last team to score was going to win. I had a feeling the game would come down to a team scoring in the final minutes and then a defensive stop would seal the victory.
Nearly eight minutes had passed in the fourth quarter without any scoring, until Bluffton’s Javon Morgan reached the end zone on a 5-yard run with 1:19 left in the game to put the Tigers up 50-46.
My prophecy was coming true, but not in the way the Patriot fans would have hoped.
Fortunately, the tide turned.
A heads-up scramble play by quarterback Nick Clemens to run out of bounds and a 48-yard scamper by freshman Cole Stigleman put the Patriots back on top 54-50.
Stigleman’s second touchdown of the night brought the Jay County fans back to life and gave the players on the sideline a ray of hope.
Bluffton still had a chance, though. D’Wayne Eskridge, who already had five touchdowns, is the type of player with the ability to score at any time. The last thing Jay County needed was for Eskridge to get space, turn on the jets and outrun the Patriot defense.
Instead, Bluffton coach Randy Hudgins opted to throw the ball, moving downfield with 15- and 16-yard passing plays.
And in the final seconds, Jay County’s defense — which had given up 34 points in the first half — forced back-to-back incomplete passes to seal the win.
The Patriots went crazy, and the fans did just the same.
Jay County had pulled off something not many people thought they could. In fact, most had already written them off after their 1-3 start.
Friday night, though, it was all about the Patriots.
When coach Tim Millspaugh stood in front of his players at the end of the game, just minutes after they pulled off an exhilarating victory, he was at a loss for words. It took a few moments for him to gather himself and tell the players how proud of them he was.
It was an emotional victory, which included a season-ending injury to fullback Drew Huffman.
They were down, but not out. They didn’t give up. They were resilient. It was a 48-minute rollercoaster of emotions for the Patriots.
With its first Allen County Athletic Conference win out of the way, the road is only going to get tougher for Jay County.
Woodlan (4-1, 1-1 ACAC) comes to town Friday, followed by South Adams and defending conference champion Leo the next two weeks. Then, the Patriots close out its regular season with a road trip to Monroeville on Oct. 17 to take on Heritage.
But Jay County showed it could persevere through a tough game against Bluffton.
There’s no reason to believe it can’t do the same in the next month.