Herbert Hoover’s football team completed just two passes all night long, but they were huge ones, the last one giving the Huskies a dramatic 34-27 home victory over Nitro on Friday night at Joe Eddie Cowley Field.
With the game tied at 27 with 21.6 seconds left in the game, Hoover had the ball at the Nitro 40-yard line. Husky quarterback Nick Grayam threw a pass over the middle to Nathan Harper, who caught the ball and outran the Wildcat defense for the game-winner with 14.1 seconds remaining.
The same play worked earlier in the game when Grayam and Harper connected on an 88-yard TD pass for Hoover (2-1). Grayam finished 2 of 5 passing with 122 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
“They were very huge,” said Hoover coach Tim Meyer on the connections between Grayam and Harper. “That’s the thing about Nathan. He makes things happen, and he certainly did there.”
Before the game-winning pass play, the Huskies ran a running play that gained 4 yards to the Wildcat 40-yard line but looked all out of sorts, wasting more than 20 seconds trying to line up for another play before finally calling timeout.
“I was getting on them to get me a play and we called timeout,” Meyer said. “We were trying to get something in the hurry-up and we settled down with the timeout. Jeff Currie called that one from up top. He sent it in there and that was a heck of a call right there.”
The game-winning drive was set up by a missed fourth-and-1 play for Nitro (1-2) at the Wildcats’ 49-yard line with 57.1 seconds left in the game. The Wildcats elected to go for it, but running back Cameron Foster was stuffed for a 1-yard loss, giving the Huskies the final possession.
Earlier in the drive, Foster rushed for a 40-yard gain that would have given Nitro the ball near the Hoover red zone but it was negated by a holding penalty.
“Penalties and turnovers kill you,” Nitro coach Zach Davis said. “We had a huge run that was called back on a holding penalty but wasn’t a hold. It is what it is. We weren’t comfortable in our punting situation. We had been gashing them on that play all night long, and that was the one time we didn’t.”
“We called a gut check and they answered,” Meyer said. “If they get that first down, they probably win the game. Our defense had been taking a pounding all offseason. That’s all we heard that the defense has to get better. They did get better and worked their butts off.”
Leading by just 21-20 early in the fourth quarter, Nitro was backed up near its own end zone, facing a third-and-15 from its own 3-yard line. Foster took the handoff and scampered 16 yards for a critical first down, continuing the possession for Nitro.
Three plays later, Wildcat receiver Anthony Jackson came in motion, took the handoff and raced 88 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown. The extra point was no good, though, giving Nitro a 27-20 lead with 8:40 left in the game.
Needing a touchdown, Hoover got just that, marching 69 yards on 12 plays, capped off by a 5-yard touchdown run by Zach Paxton. The Huskies made the extra point to tie the game at 27 with 2:48 remaining.
The Huskies played without leading rusher Ben Kee, who sat out the game with an ankle injury. In his place, Hunter Bartley helped Hoover with 74 yards on 12 carries, with Paxton adding 58 yards on 11 attempts.
“We were just telling them to step up and that’s what they did,” Meyer said. “Zach Paxton runs so hard and Hunter Bartley had some great runs as well. Nick did a great job and the offensive line did their thing.”
Lowe finished with 123 yards rushing on 15 carries and added 89 yards passing for Nitro. Foster carried 16 times for 97 yards for the Wildcats.