YORK TWP. — It was expected to be a tuneup for a pivotal Week 9 battle. It wound up being a high school football game for the ages.
Firelands stayed undefeated with a thrilling 40-36 Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division victory over Buckeye on Friday, but it took scoring two touchdowns in a 29-second span late in the fourth quarter to do it.
“If you’re not a high school football fan after this game, I give up,” said Falcons coach Mike Passerrello, whose team will take an 8-0, 5-0 record into next week’s pivotal home game against Black River (7-1, 4-1). “There weren’t many things that didn’t happen in this game.”
No, there weren’t.
There were 42 points in the second quarter, all six touchdowns scored in alternating fashion, the last on a botched Buckeye (2-6, 2-3) fake field goal that wound up being a touchdown anyway with no time on the clock.
There were 21 points in a 55-second span of the fourth quarter.
There were seven turnovers, 16 penalties, close to a dozen injuries and enough big plays for three weeks.
“We could have given up lots of times, but we kept fighting,” said Firelands quarterback Kyle Smith, who was 12-for-19 passing for 234 yards and four touchdowns. “We didn’t come out ready to play, but we responded when adversity came.”
The Falcons, who also got four catches for 151 yards and three TDs from fullback Joe Kudela, six catches for 70 yards and another score from receiver Cody Northeim and 17 carries for 121 yards and two TDs from tailback Nick Deichler, didn’t win this one the easy way.
They won it the thrilling way.
Down 28-27, the Falcons had first-and-goal at the Buckeye 6 to start the fourth quarter after the Bucks’ do-everything Bill Doerge fumbled on a punt return.
The Falcons got as close as the 2, but ended up facing fourth down from the 7. His kicking game putrid all night — Firelands missed three extra points — Passerrello elected to go for it, only to have Buckeye’s Mike Winans track down Smith from behind.
Just before Smith went down, the ball popped into the air and right into the hands of the Bucks’ Dan Gerenday, who returned it 45 yards to the Firelands 43.
Doerge — the gutsy senior was 7-of-14 passing for 65 yards and a TD, rushed 21 times for 127 yards and a score, returned an interception 47 yards for another TD and went 4-for-4 on extra points — drove his team to a first down at the Firelands 5, but had to leave the game with an injury to his lower right leg.
Enter junior backup Alex Green, who tossed a 3-yard TD to Nick Prest on third down.
Then, with Doerge unable to kick the extra point, Green hit Anthony Kisiday for the 2-point conversion, giving the upset-minded Bucks a 36-27 lead with 3:58 left in the game.
On Firelands’ first play, Smith promptly hit Kudela on a wheel route down the right sideline, the 5-foot-10, 195-pounder breaking one tackle and racing 76 yards to the end zone.
The Falcons then recovered an onside kick and Smith hit Kudela across the middle for 45 yards to the Buckeye 5. On the next play, Smith found Northeim in the end zone.
“Unfortunately, in the big moments, their players made some big plays and our players didn’t make big plays,” Bucks coach Billy Burke said. “We play aggressive. That does some good things for us, but we lost coverage there a couple times and they got us.”
The Bucks actually made plenty of big plays of their own, as running back Rick Monroe carried 16 times for 102 yards and a TD and capped the 42-point second quarter with an 18-yard TD reception from Doerge.
That play was a microcosm of the game, which featured one great play after another on both sides.
The Bucks faked a 35-yard field goal try, but holder Green dropped the ball, only to have it bounce to kicker Doerge, who scrambled left and, under heavy pressure, lobbed the ball to a leaping Monroe in the end zone with no time on the clock.
However, there were no such miracles for the Bucks once they fell behind 40-36. Doerge tried to come back in and play, but was removed after one rushing attempt. Green and Monroe then botched an exchange and the Falcons recovered with 2:11 left.
Buckeye got the ball back once more at its own 23 with 53 ticks on the clock, but Smith capped his sensational night by intercepting a desperation Green pass for Buckeye’s fifth turnover of the game.
“These guys are fighters,” Passerrello said. “We’re never going to stop competing, never going to stop fighting. I’m proud of these players. Buckeye is a great football team.”