“Gutsy” doesn’t quite explain the dramatic come-from-behind victory the York Falcons pulled off at Cooley Field Friday night.
The Falcons, who trailed Lafayette 35-14 with 8:59 left to play in regulation, hopped on the back of their senior quarterback Alex Johnston, who ran and passed for over 100 yards. Johnston delivered the performance of the year in the Bay Rivers with three fourth-quarter touchdowns – two passes and one rushing – in leading York to a thrilling 36-35 victory over previously unbeaten Lafayette in a matchup to decide the Bay Rivers title.
“No doubt he’s the Bay Rivers Player of the Year, and maybe even in the region,” York coach Doug Pereira said after the game. “Anything less than that is unacceptable.”
After Lafayette’s Thomas Smith caught an eight-yard touchdown pass from Connor McGinty to put the Rams (8-1, 7-1 BRD) ahead 35-14 with just under nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter, there appeared to be little hope for the Falcons (9-0, 8-0 BRD), who uncharacteristically turned the ball over four times.
“Just told the guys to keep playing,” Pereira added. “That’s the only sentence you can tell a team down 21 points.”
On York’s next possession, Johnston drove the Falcons downfield before connecting with Anthony Honey on an eight-yard touchdown pass to cut Lafayette’s lead 35-21.
On the very next play after recovering an onsides kick-attempt, Johnston found a wide-open Logan Bauder down the sideline for a 51-yard touchdown pass that made it a one possession game (35-28) with 5:58 to play.
York then forced a Lafayette turnover on downs, and Johnston went to work again.
On fourth and six with under a minute to play, Johnston rolled out of the pocket on a broken play before finding Honey for a 17-yard pickup. With :24 seconds left, Johnston scampered up the middle to bring the Falcons within one, 35-34.
Instead of kicking the extra point and forcing overtime, Pereira put the ball in the hands of his senior quarterback for a chance to win the game. Johnston did just that, with a little help from Lamont Silva who made a fabulous diving catch on the two-point conversion try to put the Falcons ahead 36-35.
“I called that for my dad,” Pereira said. “He passed away six months ago and I know he would have done the same thing, so that was for him.”
Said Johnson, “It was pretty easy for me…I just had to give our guys the chance to make a play and they did.”
The drama didn’t end there, however.
Lafayette took over, and after two unsuccessful long-ball attempts to Smith, who was triple-teamed each time, McGinty hooked up with Garrett Losty for a 41-yard pickup that set up the potential game-winning field goal for Jacob Vaught. But Vaught’s 26-yard attempt sailed wide-left as the clock expired.
“This is definitely a huge confident boost for us,” Johnston said. “A lot of people were picking [Lafayette] over us, so it feels good to prove them wrong.”
Johnston finished the game 14-23 for 170 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed 19 times for 112 yards and another score.
“Alex, man, I love that boy to death,” said Honey, a senior wide-out who had several big catches on the night, including the 17-yarder on fourth down during the game-winning drive. “He’s the hardest working guy out there, and he trusts all of us to do what we’re supposed to do.”
Johnston completed a pass to seven different receivers, his favorite being Bauder, who caught seven balls for 101 yards and a touchdown. Running back Jake Norman finished with 56 yards on 15 carries.
Smith, who was the star early on, caught seven balls for 117 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a six-yard score on an end-around play in the third quarter and intercepted a pass on defense as well.
Lafayette had thrived running the ball this season to the tune of almost 300 yards per game, but managed just 156 yards on the ground as a team Friday night. Fullback Will Capers led the Rams with 87 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
In addition to capturing the district title, the win also all but clinched a first-round bye in the Division 3 playoffs.
“It’s not over yet,” Johnston said. “We have higher goals than this.
“We’ll probably see these guys again, but it’s time to focus on Grafton next week.”
York- 0 7 7 22 – 36
Lafayette- 7 7 14 7 – 35
Laf- Capers 3-yard run (Vaught kick)
York- Lewis 6-yard catch from Johnston (Meade kick)
Laf- Smith 23-yard catch from McGinty (Vaught kick)
Laf- Smith 6-yard run (Vaught kick)
Yor- Lewis 9-yard run (Meade kick)
Laf- McGinty 2-yard run (Vaught kick)
Laf- Smith 8-yard catch from McGinty (Vaught kick)
York- Honey 8-yard catch from Johnston (Meade kick)
York- Bauder 51-yard catch from Johnston (Vaught)
York- Johnston 8-yard run (Silva catch from Johnston)
Rushes-yards 44-221; 29-152
Passing yards 170; 126
Comp-att-int 14-23-2; 8-16-1
Penalties-yards 3-25; 4-25
Fumbles-lost 1-1; 0-0