Cam Northern’s Twitter handle is “Man With The Plan,” and he has 419 followers. After guiding Jeffersonville to one of the unforgettable victories in program history on Friday night, his team will follow him anywhere.
Few quarterbacks have a plan when facing 99 yards, with 4:55 left, down six points against the fiercest rival, with the season at stake. The Red Devils had to go all the way. They couldn’t go any further than that.
Northern engineered a drive for the ages and capped it, scoring from 9 yards with 33 seconds left as Jeffersonville – which owned the lead twice for a grand total of 1:33, each time by one point – rallied for a 35-34 win over New Albany in the Class 6-A sectional opener. If any game qualifies as a clichéd “instant classic,” this postseason battle, which ended in tears from both teams, certainly does.
The Devils were facing this long-odds challenge because of three turnovers, because of their inability to contain New Albany’s offense, because of penalties that helped the Bulldogs convert fourth downs on two scoring drives. After surrendering so much, they finally firmed up.
On fourth-and-goal from the 1, when another touchdown would have given New Albany a two-score lead, the Devils got a crucial stop, tackling New Albany’s Darquan Richardson short of the goal line. New Albany was 5 of 6 on fourth down until that point. From there, Northern took over.
He was masterful, completing three huge passes, including two on clutch third downs. He got the Devils away from their own goal line and headed toward the other with a 14-yard strike to Brandon Coleman. After taking a sack, he rifled a 28-yard strike to tight end Dawson Willis that got the Devils within serious striking range. After a dropped pass, he found Willis again for 16 yards. Two plays later, improvising when no receiver broke open, he plowed around the left side and carried tacklers into the end zone.
In 13 plays, in 4:22, on the road, the Devils came through.
“You have to stay resilient no matter the situation,” Northern said. “That was a push, but we got it done.”
That drive erased a lot of Jeffersonville mistakes. The Devils lost three fumbles, and two of the turnovers were converted into score. Even the two Devils who attempted to sneak up on interim coach Alfonzo Browning during the postgame celebration fumbled the water cooler, falling on the turf and dumping most of the ice water. There was still enough to get that job done, too.
“Same thing I’ve been saying all year long,” Browning said. “They don’t quit. They fight. They don’t give up.
“They outplayed us in the first half, and our team knew they were better than what they were playing. I laid into them and let them know, told them what it was, and they responded. It’s a credit to these kids. These kids wanted it, they earned it.”
While Northern and the Devils were being mobbed amidst tears of joy, the scene on the opposite end of Buerk Field was stone silent, except for sobs. For every heroic triumph, there is heartbreak, and New Albany gathered in stunned disbelief around first-year coach Sean Coultis to mourn.
The Bulldogs, who dominated the bulk of the night from their very first drive, had two-score leads three times, and thought they had earned that again. On the play prior to the fourth-down denial, Coultis and everyone in black uniforms was sure Rondale Moore had put the Bulldogs up 41-28 when he scampered loose around the right side and dove to the corner of the end zone.
He hit the pylon that marks the boundary with the football. The sideline official marked him a yard short. Coultis ran all the way down the sideline to argue, without results. The rest is history.
“You don’t want to say the game came down to one play, but geez,” Coultis said. “Rondale Moore stays inbounds and hits the pylon. It’s a touchdown. I don’t want to say we got cheated, but geez. That’s a tough call. Did it decide the game? Yes it did. I know Rondale scored.”
Jeffersonville will recall this classic one way, New Albany would like to forget it but won’t. That’s the way rivalries work.
“It was a tough one. It’s horrible,” Coultis said. “It hurts. Our kids have come a long way. I’m so proud of our kids. I know Jeff certainly respects them now.
“It hurts, it really, really hurts.”
The Best of the Rest
x- Silver Creek’s Noah Jones ran for 167 yards and five touchdowns, powering the Dragons to a 42-31 road victory at Madison in the first round of Class 4-A Sectional 23. The winless Cubs blasted to a 21-0 lead before Jones took over.
Jones scored three first-half touchdowns, and his fourth (following a Madison turnover) gave Silver Creek a 35-24 lead. Jacob Garett added 135 yards rushing for the Dragons.
x- North Harrison’s first perfect regular season ended in heartbreak at Southridge in Class 3-A Sectional 31. Chad Meyer returned an interception 55 yards for a touchdown with 1:54 left as the Raiders stunned the No.7 Cougars 28-21.
x- Austin Kopp ran for 317 yards and five touchdowns as Corydon slammed Brown County 49-7 in Class 3-A Sectional 31. Kopp went over the 300-yard mark for the second time this season.
x- Quentin Knight scored two touchdowns as Eastern Pekin topped Clarksville 15-0 in Class 2-A Sectional 40. The Generals finished 0-10 (scoring only three times all year) with a roster that included 38 freshmen and sophomores among the 48 total.
Justin Sokeland can be contacted at [email protected]