Hornets come back from 21-0 in fourth, win 27-21 in overtime

For three quarters on Thursday night, the Morristown West Trojans looked to be in command of their game against Carter as they held a 21-0 lead. Unfortunately, everything changed in the fourth quarter.

The Hornets scored 21 points in the final frame with the last touchdown coming with six seconds to go, held West in overtime and then won the game on Anthony Stocker’s 10-yard run to escape Burke-Toney Stadium with a thrilling 27-21 victory.

“It was one of those things where things started to snowball on us again,” West head coach Dr. Alvin Sanders said of his teams’ tough loss to the Hornets late in the game. “We were trying to respond, but it was a situation where Carter had a short field and it was like that for most of the second half.”

“My hat is off to coach (Scott) Meadows and his staff as his kids kept fighting,” Sanders said about his counterpart from Strawberry Plains. “We had a chance to win it but once again, we didn’t execute when we needed to and that rolled into our head again. I’m super proud of my kids and the way we are fighting this season. We are growing up before our eyes, it’s just when we make mistakes, it is costing us big time right now.”

Late in the third quarter, the Hornets were driving but fumbled the ball at the West seven yard-line and Tison Johnson fell on it and the Trojans were trying to get the ball away from their own end zone on the ensuing drive. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Carter blocked a West punt, Preston McNew recovered the ball at the one yard-line and fell into the end zone for the score. Caleb Chunn’s extra point had the Hornets on the scoreboard but they still trailed 21-7.

The weird play seemed to give Carter a new burst of energy as they held West on their next possession and got the ball at their own 46 after a Trojans’ punt. Quarterback Chandler Wilson found Gabe Harper for a 22-yard pick-up to get into West territory and five plays later, Wilson fired to Harper again, this time for a 13-yard touchdown to pull the Hornets to within one score, 21-14.

West got the ball back with 7:19 on their own 15 yard-line. The Trojans marched the ball down the field, picking up four first downs before the drive stalled. West got to the Carter 13 but the Hornets held on a fourth down play.

With 2:01 remaining and no timeouts, West appeared to wrap up the game with a big play of their own as Johnson picked off a Carter pass, but the play was negated by a pass interference penalty. Wilson took advantage of the call and had passes of 16 and 35 yards to McNew and Stocker, respectively. The play of the game came when coach Meadows went to his bag of tricks and ran a Boise State-type hook-and-ladder play as Gabe Harper got all the way down to the West seven yard line on a 44-yard run.

After two incomplete passes, Wilson was successful on the third one as he found McNew for the three-yard touchdown. Chunn connected on the extra point with six seconds remaining to tie the game at 21-21. West got the ball first in the extra frame but a bobbled snap on a field goal attempt ended the Trojans’ chances of taking the lead. On the first play of Carter’s possession, Stocker would not be denied as he slipped over the left pylon for the game-winning 10-yard touchdown to make the final tally 27-21.

“It was a good call on their behalf,” Sanders said of the razzle-dazzle play that set up Carter’s game-winner. “We had been playing the curl really tight and they didn’t have anywhere to go with the football but the one guy we hadn’t accounted for was the back out of the backfield. So that was a great call against the scheme we were playing. Even before that, though, we had an opportunity to get them off the field, but got a costly pass interference penalty and while things like that are part of the game, we can’t do things like that to beat ourselves.”

West out-gained Carter 419-340 and was led by Hunter Delaney who had a monster game as netted 172 yards on 33 carries. Trojans quarterback Noah Tripucka threw for 150 yards and two scores by going 11-of-18 through the air. Jackson Cole was on the receiving end of both scores and finished the game with 114 receiving yards. Wilson was 12-of-27 for 225 yards and two touchdowns for Carter. Austin Ramsey was his favorite target as he hauled in seven receptions for 108 yards. Nick Davidson rushed for 100 yards on 18 carries.

“Hunter has been saying ‘coach, I can do more and I want to do more for this football team’,” Sanders said of Delaney’s calling for the ball leading up to Thursday’s game. “The offensive line is starting to groove and they have told me ‘put someone back there, it doesn’t matter who, we are going to protect them and get done what we need to get done’. But it’s a situation where these young pups are growing up and we are going to have a chance here in the near future but we just have to keep fighting and see what happens.”

West scored first when Sanders used a trick play of his own as wide receiver Eli Richardson threw a 53-yard bomb to Cole who slipped behind the Carter defense in the first quarter. Caleb Santana’s kick put the Trojans up 7-0. The home team went up 14-0 when Tripucka found Cole in the end zone for the second time on the night, this time on a 20-yard strike.

Tripucka was firing on all cylinders again and this time he rocketed a 30-yard pass to Delaney who hauled it in for the score to cap a quick 55-second drive and put West up 21-0. That was how things stood at the end of the third quarter.

Despite the hard-fought loss, Sanders said the effort and grit of his team was evident on Thursday. “My guys just keep playing hard and keep fighting. We just have to find a way to clean it up. These last four games are the most important so now we have to put it together and give ourselves a chance.”

West returns to league play next Friday as they travel to take on Science Hill.