Eastpoint - Two 80-plus yard kick returns, one on the opening kickoff and the other on the final punt, bookended Friday night’s 31-28 game battle between Aucilla Christian and Franklin County.
Fortunately for the hometown crowd, that last punt landed near Seahawk senior Tyler Howard.
With just over a minute left, and the Warriors facing a fourth-and-four on the Seahawk 45, and clinging to a 28-24 lead, coach Colby Roberts opted to punt.
“The way our defense was playing we were just going punt it and hold them for the game,” said Roberts. “We kicked it away from him, he ran over there and fielded it and we just didn’t cover.”
Howard’s sprint down the sidelines gave the Seahawks their first and only lead of the night, but it was enough to electrify the homecoming crowd, who witnessed the first win in their Mikel Clark stadium in five years.
“I told him before he ran it ‘You get that ball, you better take it to the end zone, you better not get tackled, you better find your way to that end zone,” said Seahawks’ first year coach Randy Brock, who earned his first victory as a varsity coach.
“He sure did. He’s going to be something else,” he said.
The Warriors jumped quickly to a two-touchdown lead, as sophomore Blake Wirick took the kickoff 85 yards for the score, and senior Pcole Harrell nailed the extra point. Minutes later, senior quarter back Dalton Browning hit senior running back Joshua Greene with a 50-yard scoring strike,
With two minutes left in the quarter, and the Seahawks deep in their own territory, Howard took a handoff from sophomore quarterback Micah McLeod and raced 95 yards to put the Seahawks on the board. Junior Yanni Pateritsas nailed the first of his four extra points to tighten the game at 14-7.
The Seahawks missed a scoring opportunity when sophomore defensive end Tonoor Segree recovered a fumble on the Warrior 15 with 1:21 left in the half. But Seahawk miscommunication stymied them on downs.
With six minutes left in the third quarter, and the Seahawks missing standout sophomore running back Ethan Riley who left with an elbow injury, McLeod through a 20-yard scoring aerial to junior Zacc Townsend in the end zone, and the game was tied.
Minutes later, the Warriors’ Greene burst through a hole at midfield and tore about 51 yards into the end zone for his second score of the night. A pick-six interception by senior Joe Hannon that followed on the subsequent Seahawk drive put Aucilla up 28-14, as the fourth quarter dawned.
Townsend’s second touchdown of the night then came on a 35-yard aerial from McLeod, and by mid-quarter the Seahawks trailed 28-21.
With less than four minutes remaining, Brock opted to have Pateritsas attempt a 37-yard field goal. The first kick cleared the uprights, but the ref said the whistle hadn’t been blown, and so the play was repeated, and the kick was now officially good.
“I thought we only gave up 14 points on defense,” said Brock. “I thought let’s get the points, Yanni can kick the ball."
A sturdy defensive effort contained the Warriors on their last drive, setting up the game-changing punt.
“They played a heck of a ballgame,” said Brock. “ The whole team showed up,.”