Those two words sent the nimble fingers of reporters furiously flying over keyboards in the press box as they thought of the best way to describe the kind of football game that made them want to write sports in the first place.
Those two words stunned the visiting TSU Tigers sideline as well as the stands behind them filled with fans. One half of Governors stadium, covered in TSU blue, suddenly shook their heads in disbelief.
Those two words ignited an eruption of cheers from the Govs fans who had been standing since the last hopeful offensive drive began. All thoughts of coldness, traffic and food were replaced with instantaneous excitement and joy.
Govs’ junior kicker Stephen Stansell did not hear those two words after he kicked the 35-yard field goal with 10 seconds left in the game to seal the Govs’ 37-34 comeback victory against the TSU Tigers Saturday, Oct. 1.
The ball soared end-over-end, high and through the uprights. The referees lifted both of their hands into the air signifying the kick was good. The sellout crowd of over 8,000 people reacted, half in red joy, the other half in blue disappointment.
It was the last three points of a 24-point rally by the Govs in the second half of a game that had everything. The Govs’ defense held the Tigers scoreless for the last 28 minutes of the game and the offense scored on five of their last seven offensive drives.
The win gives the Govs a 2-0 start in the Ohio Valley Conference for the first time since 1977. This was also the fifth-straight game between the Govs and Tigers which was determined by three or less points. Stansell had made only one of his last four kicks before he made the game winner.
“We made big plays. That was one of our goals in this week’s game,” said head coach Rick Christophel. “We knew if we made big plays we would win tonight. Another big key tonight was that they gave us two turnovers and we had none.”
The biggest turnover came with 2:12 left in the game. The two teams were tied at 34 and the Tigers had the ball trying to convert a third down and five.
TSU quarterback Mike German completed a pass for the first down to receiver Devin Wilson, but Govs free safety Antwuan Majors forced a fumble. Govs’ senior safety Amius Smith recovered the fumble and the offense took over at midfield.
A 17-yard bullet pass to junior wide receiver Devin Starks put the Govs in field goal range. Then, they kept the ball on the ground, using up time on the clock and forcing the Tigers to spend all their timeouts. At the 15 second mark, the Govs used their last time out to set up Stansell and five seconds later he was surrounded by teammates celebrating the game-winning kick.
Govs quarterback Jake Ryan threw a career-high 314 yards, including two touchdowns and no interceptions. Stark caught seven passes for 94 yards and a touchdown.
Tailback Ryan White produced 92 total yards of offense with a touchdown. Defensively, Majors made 11 tackles and the forced fumble was his second consecutive game creating a turnover.
The final, game-winning drive was the climax of a Govs explosive second half. The Govs had very few highlights in the first half of the game. It was TSU who controlled the first half and appeared to be on their way to a lopsided victory. The Tigers made the first strike on the opening kickoff when Weldon Garlington ran past, around and over several Govs for 100 yards to the end zone.
The Tigers went on to score on all of their five, first-half offensive drives. At halftime, they led the game 27-13.
“Giving them that touchdown on the opening kickoff was the worst thing we could have done,” Christophel said. “They had us back on our heels defensively the whole game. Fortunately, later in the game, we made plays when they gave us good field position.”
The Tigers were ahead 34-20 when their first offensive drive did not end in a score. They attempted a 41-yard field goal and missed. From there, the Govs defense clamped down. They forced two punts and a turnover, allowing the offense a chance to come back and win.
“We had to change our game plan because we were down the whole game. We didn’t get to run the ball as much as we would have wanted to, so we had to throw the ball and some guys stepped up and made plays,” Christophel said. “We really made the adjustments we needed to defensively. We held them to seven points in the second half. We applied pressure to them and they had to play on their heels in the second half.”
The win places the Govs in third place in the OVC behind Jacksonville State and Tennessee Tech, who are both 3-0 in the conference. The win also puts the Govs in a first place tie for the Sgt. York Trophy Series.
The Govs will travel to UT Martin for their next game on Saturday, Oct. 8. They will return home to play undefeated Jacksonville State. TAS