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It was an amazing finish for T-BirdsPosted Thursday, September 23, 2010, at 7:25 PM
The finish of last week's Eastern Greene at Wood Memorial football game was nothing short of amazing.
With quarterback and sparkplug Zach Ingram nursing his way through the second half due to a knee injury, things were starting to look bleak for the Thunderbirds.
They had watched a 12-0 first half lead slowly evaporate and turn into a 14-12 deficit with less than two minutes remaining to play.
That meant that EGHS coach Luke Dean was left with a decision to make when his team went back on offense following the Trojans' 39 yard touchdown run by Sam Trader and ensuing two-point conversion by Kenan Bazath -- who would be involved again before the final curtain fell.
Bazath's ill-fated pass attempt on fourth down in Wood Memorial's final possession would prove to be the final blow when it ended up in the arms of Thunderbird defensive back Tanner Bailey. It would prove to be the icing on the cake of a story that was great theater for the hundred or so fans that had made the trek to Oakland City.
Dean's decision to go to 5-7, 145 pound freshman Cody Hopkins set the stage for a magic ending that is the stuff that war stories 20 years in the future are made of.
When asked about how much it changed his gameplan to see Ingram sidelined, Dean agreed that it was huge.
"He kind of tweaked it earlier, so it's been sore for awhile," Dean said. "So we knew coming in that it could be a possibility."
The prologue to the drama was when Trader hit paydirt with 4:22 to play in regulation. That gave the lead to Wood Memorial for the first time in the game and with Ingram and the Thuderbird offense being, sporadic at best, it gave the homecoming crowd a feeling that nothing could go wrong.
Act one began when Ezra Eads took the ensuing kickoff, found a seam and put the football at the Wood Memorial 29-yard line.
Then came the dramatic decision by Dean to throw the freshman into the heat of battle.
"It was nerves," Hopkins said. "I'm a freshmen and I was just hoping to get the job done."
Michael Love, who has been in similar situations before, had a word for the freshman signal caller in the huddle prior to the final play of the drive, a 10-yard scoring pass.
"I just told Cody Hopkins in the huddle, I know that he's really young and a freshman with very little experience really, I'm a senior, I have experience, just throw me the ball, I'll be open," Love said. "The play before I was open."
Hopkins, who remained humble when talking about his experience afterwards, said he tried to remain calm at all times, look for his 6-2, 219 pound senior target, and make a good throw.
"I was just looking down field and I found Mike," Hopkins said. "He did a good job of going down and catching that ball and I'm glad that he did."
Facing an all-out blitz from the Wood Memorial defense, Hopkins was staring at a decision of his own -- scramble around, get loose and throw the ball or take a chance on running, get as much ground as you can and hope that you get into the end zone.
What he did was not only unlike a freshman, but unlike an inexperienced player as well -- he decided to throw the football.
The only throw Hopkins attempted all evening wasn't perfect, it nearly faded to the ground as Love reached down and pulled victory from the jaws of defeat.
"I saw him scramble and I came back to the ball and he fired it right to me," Love said.
Hopkins reacted again on the conversion attempt when he sliced and diced his way through the Wood Memorial defense thanks to solid blocking from his line.
"It started with the kickoff," Dean said. "Ezra Eads had a great kickoff return, Cody came in did a great job. There were some good runs and a heck of a pass on fourth down when big Mike caught the ball, it was big for us, a team win."
That left just one closing act -- it was a defensive act, one that was nearly overshadowed by the performance of Hopkins and the Thunderbird offense.
But, as with any great story, there's a great ending. And this one was orchestrated by the Eastern Greene defensive backs. All game long they had made things difficult for the Trojans and the final stand would be no different.
First they didn't allow quarterback Sean Reiner any breathing room or his receivers any space to catch the ball.
They had failed on their first three plays before Reiner handed the ball to Bazath on fourth down, who immediately went backwards.
Bazath, facing two Eastern Greene defensive linemen, threw up a pass reminiscent of Garo Yepremian's desperation pass against the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII that ended in a Mike Bass touchdown.
This one wound up in the hands of Tanner Bailey who advanced the ball about 20 yards.
"Our defensive backs did a great job tonight," Dean said. "They've got a great passing attack and our guys did a great job against it all night long."
While Bailey didn't end up in the end zone, he did end up about 20 yards downfield and celebrated like he had scored when he headed toward the Eastern Greene bench.
"It was a great team effort," Dean said. "Everybody played hard, I couldn't be more proud of my guys."
The Thunderbirds will look for more hocus pocus and a second win a row Friday (tonight) at North Central.
Rick is a sports writer with the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached by telephone at (812) 847-4487. Or by E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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