If a football team has to be defeated, it surely wants to go down still fighting. That’s what the Spring Hill Bears can say they did until nearly the last hour of Friday night as game time expired with them on the low side of a 40-32 score against the Mountain Pine Red Devils in what will surely be known as the helicopter game.
With 16 seconds in the game, it looked like Mountain Pine (6-0), after a staging a four-down stand five yards in front of its own endzone that denied Spring Hill (6-1) the touchdown it had to have to potentially tie the game at 40 with a two-point conversion added, would just kneel and run out the clock. But their snap was muffed, the ball hit the grass and Spring Hill’s Dalton Glover had miraculously recovered it. Spring Hill had itself another possession. And they were on the Mountain Pine ten-yard line.
Spring Hill promptly called its last timeout. When play resumed, it was clear there would only be time for passing plays. On the first, Levin McGuire scrambled to his left to avoid the sack but the ball he threw fell to the endzone turf at his receiver’s feet. Incomplete. There were four seconds left.
On what was to be the game’s last play, McGuire was chased back and back about ten yards from the line of scrimmage then scooted left to evade his hurriers just long enough to allow him to send the ball toward a receiver standing in the right corner of the end zone who . . . saw a Mountain Pine defender deflect the pass out of bounds. Time had run out. The undefeated season was gone. The 40-32 score was the final. Spring Hill’s fans were distraught.
As the teams lined up on the field for the ceremonial post-game handshakes, things proceeded cordially, but after the lines finished, it was plain Mountain Pine’s players and cheerleaders were celebrating their survival of Spring Hill’s intense but beleaguered attempt to keep their undefeated streak going and the continuation of their own.
In its campaign against the visiting Mountain Pine, Spring Hill had its share of miscues and penalties which caused stalled drives, and awarded the Red Devils free yards. Just before half time Spring Hill gave up a long kickoff return for a touchdown. In addition, with 7:13 left in the third quarter, there was a 50-minute pause in the game as a helicopter landed and kept its propellers spinning in an adjacent practice field as a Mountain Home junior varsity player with a potential punctured lung was worked on in an ambulance so he could be stabilized enough to fly. The name of the player was not disclosed and his condition is unknown as this is being written.
When action resumed on a Red Devils second and eight at the Mountain Pine 46, the Red Devils had obviously benefited from the rest, with their running back Keelan Dobbins breaking a 38-yard run, then another two plays later for 20, then a short touchdown run. The conversion was successful on a keeper by Jonah Wilburn to make it 26-24 Red Devils.
Spring Hill’s answer was a drive that started at their own 45 yard-line on a kickoff return and a self-recovered fumble by Jayce Moore. The longest play of the drive was a spectacular multiple tackle-breaking run by Tipton that started at the Red Devils’ 47 and was stopped at their 15. The next play was a touchdown pass from McGuire to Blane Tuttle. The conversion run by Tipton was good and made the score 32-26 Spring Hill with 2:10 left in the third quarter.
In 14 seconds, Mountain Pine would tie the game at 32. A squib kickoff by Spring Hill was picked up by a Panther at the Mountain Pine 45. But a personal foul penalty brought the ball to the Spring Hill 35. The first down play was blown dead after Spring Hill’s defense jumped offsides. The ball was then moved to the Spring Hill 30. On the first and five, Dobbins ran the ball in for touchdown. The conversion attempt failed. It was 32-32.
The next series for Spring Hill began with Cade Watson returning on a kickoff to the Bears’ own 37. McGuire ran left on first down to the 45. Two attempts to get three more yards on run plays to make a first down fail. The fourth-down play, the first play of the fourth quarter, was a dropped pass. So the Bears turned it over on downs on its own 45 to the Red Devils.
The Red Devils sputtered after an initial 15-yard gain on a run, but on a fourth and three at the 20, Wilburn completed a pass to the Spring Hill 13. Then an offsides penalty on Spring Hill put the ball on the eight, from which Dobbens was able to score, taking a 38-32 lead. On the conversion attempt, the Red Devils committed a personal foul which backed them up to the 15. A false start backed them up to the 20. But Wilburn completed a pass to Isaiah Miles for the extra two. It was 40-32 with 9:10 left in the game.
Spring Hill’s next drive started at its own 41 after a Reece Tarver kickoff return. More impressive runs from Tipton followed, taking Spring Hill into the Mountain Pine red zone. But Tipton appeared to be stripped of the ball as he crossed the five and the Red Devils recovered.
The Bears held the Red Devils to a three-and-out. The Red Devils’ punt was returned to the Mountain Pine 36. This drive got even closer to scoring than the Bears’ previous series. Cade Watson even took the ball into the end zone, but the apparent score was called back on a holding call, causing Spring Hill to have to snap a fourth-and goal play from the Red Devils’ ten.
By this time there were 20 seconds left in the game. As the ball was snapped, the Red Devils blitzed Levin McGuire, causing him to throw an off-balance three or four-yard pass that landed at a Spring Hill receiver’s feet. It was turnover on downs and the Red Devils appeared to have the game well in hand. That’s when the fumble occurred that yielded the apparently miraculous extra possession that wasn’t.
Afterward Spring Hill Coach Greg Smith was asked whether he was eager for a rematch against the Red Devils in the playoffs. “We can’t even think about another chance at them in the playoffs. We’ve just got to think about Marvel next week. One step at a time,” he said. “That game [against Mountain Pine] is gone. We’ll move on. We’re going to find the next opponent. That’s our goal, the next opponent. That’s how we get to playoffs.”
Spring Hill’s next game is on Friday October 21 at Marvell.
Corrections: Edits were made to correct one characterization of a play, to the place where the next game is to occur and to mistakes in the name of the Mountain Pine mascot. SWARK.Today regrets these errors.