After mounting a quick 21-0 lead, St. Stephens was in danger of allowing Fred T. Foard back into the annual cross-county clash between the 3A rivals.
In a deep deficit, the Tigers scored two quick touchdowns and were staging a comeback going into halftime.
Then Indian quarterback Tanner Miller took over.
With 1 minute 30 seconds left in the first half, the Indians got the ball on their own 4-yard line after recovering a Foard fumble that killed a threatening Tiger drive.
Miller then rushed six times for 81 yards to lead the Indians into field goal range.
“He is an unbelievable kid and a really good athlete,” said St. Stephens coach Fred Whalen. “When he was rolling out looking for passing lanes, he found plenty of running space.”
St. Stephens ran kicker Cody Solesbee and holder Jeff Ellis onto the field to attempt a kick. Rather than teeing up the ball for his kicker, Ellis took the snap and passed it to Franklin Jefferies for a touchdown to cap a 96-yard, 10-play scoring drive that ended the half with a 28-13 Indians lead.
“We had been working on it during practice, and it just worked,” said Ellis of his first touchdown pass.
In fact, the Indians intended to try the fake kick at the start of the game after Ellis caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from Miller to give the Indians a 7-0 lead.
“We were going to run it on the first touchdown for the PAT, but we forgot about it,” Whalen said. “When we got down there (at the end of the first half) we remembered it, and we were able to run it.”
The score before the half helped boost the Indians to a 42-26 win — their first in 2010.
“Anytime you can win a game, it is a good thing,” Whalen said. “Foard played a hard-fought game. Both sides were basically playing a playoff game, and I am tickled to death with the way our kids played.”
Despite the loss, Foard coach Ryan Gettys was also pleased by his team’s perseverance.
“It was a well-fought game,” he said, adding the Tigers gave up too many big plays in the Indians’ passing game. “One thing I am really happy about my kids, they never give up.”
After going down 7-0 at the 10:36 mark of the first quarter, Foard’s offense found itself starting at its own goal line. A mishandled snap turned into a fumble, that was recovered by St. Stephens’ Dyson Littlejohn for a touchdown.
“I was just thinking I need to recover it and get seven points on the board for my team, and hopefully it will lead us to victory, and it did,” he said.
Littlejohn also scored on a 3-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Miller passed for six completions, 106 yards and two touchdowns, and added a 136 yards and another 53-yard touchdown run on the ground.
“There is not better feeling than being out here playing football with your family,” he said.
Foard running back Tre Robinson led the Tigers attack with more than 215 yards rushing and three touchdowns in the loss.
“I thought our running game was really good, but it took too much time off the clock,” Gettys said. “We had to stick with what was working, and our passing really wasn’t there so we kept running the ball.”
Foard quarterback Stefan Gettys completed just three passes on 10 attempts for 24 yards. He rushed for a 1-yard touchdown, but also threw two interceptions collected by Devin Shuford and Ellis.
The Indians (1-7, 1-2) next travel to Alexander Central. Foard (0-8, 0-3) hosts Watauga.