SENECA – Wilmington senior Reid Juster said there were only three things going through his mind as he lined up to attempt a 37-yard, game-tying field goal with five seconds remaining in Saturday’s Class 2A football playoff game against host Seneca.
“Honestly, all I was thinking about was ‘good snap, good hold, good kick,’” Juster said. “The first two things were spot on, but I really didn’t hit it that good, actually pretty bad. Luckily the wind helped a little and it made it through.”
Following Juster’s successful clutch boot, the Wildcats’ defense stopped the Fighting Irish on fourth down from the 1-yard line to begin the overtime, before Kyle Farrell plunged in from the 3 on second down to lift the visitors to a 20-14 victory and a trip to the semifinals.
Wilmington (11-1) – its only loss of the season coming in Week 1 to Seneca (11-1) – advances to host Maroa-Forsyth at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. The Trojans defeated Bloomington Central Catholic 35-11.
“What an unbelievable game,” Wilmington coach Jeff Reents said. “Our kids kept their composure the whole game, especially on the last drive there in regulation. We put ourselves in some bad spots today, but every time the kids were able to overcome the situations. (Senior QB) Cade (McCubbin) really stepped up when we needed him the most. He led us to where we needed to go with two minutes to play. Then Reid makes the big kick, our defense makes a big stop in overtime to give us a chance to win it, and then we were able to punch in in.
“This was two great teams that are pretty good at what they do going at it. Nobody deserved to lose this game.”
With just over two minutes to play and trailing 14-11, Wilmington stopped Seneca on a fourth and goal at the Wildcats’ 1.
“Was it a perfect situation to be in? No. Starting at our own 1-yard line, two minutes to go, down three and knowing we were going to have to throw was a little out of our comfort zone for sure,” McCubbin said. “But I had faith that my line will give the time to throw and that my receivers would get open and catch it. I just wanted to make sure I was getting the ball out as quick as I could and put it in a spot my guys could get their hands on it. Kyle and Reid made some huge catches on that final drive.”
McCubbin (8-of-15, for 68 yards) completed four consecutive passes that moved the ball to the Irish 45. Then on a fourth and 8 with 30 seconds on the clock, the Wildcats’ signal caller hit Juster (three catches, 41 yards) for an 18-yard pass to set up the tying field goal.
“I can’t say enough good things about my guys,” Seneca coach Terry Maxwell said. “They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do and more. They truly fit the description of a ‘Team.’ None of us expected this ride to end today and it’s hard to truly believe that is. Sometimes when two really good teams come together it’s a game like it was here today where it’s a shame someone has to lose it.”
Each squad scored on its first possession of the game. Seneca completed a 15-play, 80-yard drive of just over 7 minutes drive with a TD plunge by Asher Hamby to make it 7-0. Wilmington answered with an incredible 21-play, 80-yard journey that took just more than 14 minutes, ending with a Farrell 3-yard TD dash, but the PAT failed.
The Wildcats led 8-7 after a bad Seneca snap on a punt attempt led to a safety two minutes before halftime and 11-7 at the intermission after Juster’s booming 54-yard field goal at the horn.
“I was fortunate on the one,” Juster said. “It started out about 10 yards off to the left before the strong cross wind pushed it back in between the uprights.”
Seneca retook the lead with five minutes left in the third on a 36-yard TD run by Nathen Neal.
Farrell led the Wildcats’ ground game with 71 yards on 22 carries, while Ryan Kettman had 59 on 18. Wilmington finished with 227 total yards, 159 rushing on 49 tries.
Neal paced the Irish with 94 yards on 8 carries, while Nathan Grant recorded 78 on 10. Seneca ended with 160 yards, all on the ground, on 37 attempts.
“Hats off to Wilmington, especially their defense,” Maxwell said. “They were able to stop us in many of the offensive things we’ve been doing all season, especially twice inside the 10-yard line. I thought our defense played a very solid game as well. We just weren’t able to get that extra yard or two a couple times and sometimes that can make the difference in who wins and who losses.”