Easton 40 — Cambridge-SD 34  

EASTON — Brogan Stofa thought he had cost Easton High’s football team the game.

The Warriors had just gone ahead in the second overtime Friday night against arch nemesis Cambridge-South Dorchester, when Stofa watched his extra-point attempt drift wide right, leaving the Vikings an opportunity to tie with a touchdown and win with a point-after kick.

“I thought the game was over,” said Stofa, a sophomore placekicker and defensive back, who soon after the miss was face to face with a two-way senior starter. “Joe Hickey came up to me, grabbed me, told me, ‘It’s fine. Make the next play. We’ll be all good.’”

Five plays later, Stofa stayed step for step with Cambridge-SD receiver Malik Ennals along the sideline, tracked quarterback John Henry’s pass, leaped, and landed on his back near the goal line with a game-saving interception that sealed a dramatic 40-34 Easton victory and set off a wild, on-field celebration at Warrior Stadium.

“Changed my whole night,” Stofa said of the pick that likely cemented the Warriors (6-3) as the No. 6 seed in the Class 2A East Region playoffs. Though the official first-round pairings don’t come out until today, Easton appears headed to No. 3 Harford Tech (8-1) next Friday.

Despite having its seven-game win streak snapped, Cambridge-SD (7-2) figures to remain the No. 1 seed in the 1A East, and will likely host No. 8 Havre de Grace in its playoff opener Friday night.

“I said, ‘Big-time players make big-time plays,’ and he’s going to make one eventually,” said Hickey of his conversation with Stofa. “I told him to keep his head up and keep playing. There’s no reason to get down because that play’s not going to happen ever again. So I just told him to keep his head up and keep going.”

Things were certainly going Cambridge-SD’s way with a little over three minutes remaining in regulation. The Vikings looked ready to add to their 27-19 lead after recovering a fumble by Easton’s Shawn Warner on a punt return at the Warriors 12-yard line. Camren Lake (13 carries, 101 yards) gained five yards on first down, but Easton dropped Vikings star running back Khalik Beasley (23 carries, 157 yards) for a 2-yard loss, stuffed Lake for no gain on third down, then burned its final timeout.

Taking the muddy field conditions into consideration, Cambridge-SD opted to go for it on fourth-and-seven from Easton’s 9 instead of having James Frazier attempt a field goal. Henry threw to Logan Middleton, who made the catch but was ruled out of bounds.

“I’ve got a lot of faith in my kicker, but the field’s wet, guys are slipping all over the place,” Cambridge-SD head coach Gaven Parker said. “So I talked to my defensive coordinator (Al Waters) and he said, ‘Look, if they can drive 90 yards with no timeouts … I think we’re in good shape, so let’s just go for it.’ So we went for it, obviously didn’t get it.”

Before Easton took over on its 9-yard line with 1:53 left in regulation and no timeouts, Warrior assistant Matt Griffith chatted with junior quarterback Ryan O’Connor.

“He basically gave me a (flashback) of when we played Queen Anne’s in the playoffs, when we had Jaelon (Moaney) at quarterback,” said O’Connor of his talk with Griffith, who was head coach when the Warriors stunned Queen Anne’s, 21-14, in the 2A East semifinals five years ago. “He basically told me we had to go down and get a score to get into the playoffs, and that’s what we just did.”

After an incompletion, O’Connor ran for 11 yards and a first down. He found Grant Copper (five receptions, 106 yards) for a 34-yard pickup to the Viking 46. Warner caught a 7-yard pass and hustled out of bounds to stop the clock. O’Connor lost a yard on second down, but hit Copper for five yards and another first.

O’Connor, who completed 19 of 36 for 287 yards and three touchdowns, and carried 22 times for 72 yards and two scores, threw incomplete, then snapped a laser to Warner (five catches, 73 yards) on a crossing route for a 28-yard gain to the Viking 7, setting up first-and-goal. Thatcher Knox hauled in a pass, but was ruled out of the end zone on first down. O’Connor ran for two yards, but a holding penalty on the Vikings pushed the ball to the 4. Still second down, Cambridge-SD’s Jay’zon Roberts broke up a pass in the end zone with 29.4 seconds left in regulation. O’Connor rolled right, cut left, and found an opening for a 4-yard touchdown run, then connected with Warner for the two-point conversion and a 27-27 tie with 18.3 seconds left in regulation.

“I was just thinking about putting seven up on the board, honestly,” O’Connor said of the game-tying drive. “We made great plays. I have the best group of guys around me. We just fought all night. It didn’t matter if we were high, low. When the bell rang we were there to answer.”

Cambridge-SD got the ball first in overtime and needed two plays to cover 10 yards, as Dario Belizaire bulled through the right side of the line for a 2-yard touchdown. Frazier’s extra-point made it 34-27.

Easton’s first possession of OT took longer. Knox gained two yards on first down. O’Connor threw incomplete, and then ran for a yard, setting up fourth-and-goal from the 7. From there, the Warrior quarterback rolled left and zipped a pass that Copper latched onto in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. Stofa’s extra-point boot sailed wide, but Cambridge-SD was flagged for jumping onto a player’s back, giving the Warriors a second PAT attempt, which Stofa converted for a 34-34 tie.

Easton got the ball first in the second OT and was flagged for holding on first down, pushing the ball back to the 20. O’Connor gained 10 yards on first down, picked up four on second, five on third, then scored from a yard out on fourth down. But Stofa’s PAT was off the mark, keeping it 40-34.

Cambridge-SD’s second OT possession started with a holding penalty, moving the ball back to the 18. Beasley ran for seven. Henry (4 of 10, 73 yards) threw incomplete. Lake scored on an 11-yard run, but the Vikings were again flagged for holding, then got hit with a unsportsmanlike penalty. With the ball moved back to the 33, Henry looked left on third down and fired toward the sideline, where Stofa got in front of Ennals, jumped and made the interception to end the game.

“I was not expecting to come down with the ball, but I just came down with it,” Stofa said. “In practice all week, we ran that same play, the little fake, the screen pass, the wheel route. I’m just been backing up and backing up, and just kept going with it, and I watched my receiver’s eyes and I went up and just jumped for it, somehow got it.

“I thought this is unbelievable,” Stofa added with a huge smile. “I have no clue how I just caught this ball. It just feels amazing. It does not get better than this.”

Easton senior inside linebacker Noah Greene agreed.

“When he missed the extra point I honestly felt like the defense was going to go out there and take care of business,” Greene said. “I was doing my drop steps, I was looking for where the ball was going. I was the first one to see Brogan when he came up with the ball. It was nothing like it. Oh, my goodness. I can’t believe it. I would never imagine that this would happen. It did and it’s awesome.”

“We knew it was a pass because they were backed up pretty far,” Hickey said of Easton’s mindset on third down. “We knew we had to do our jobs for two plays, and it turned out we only had to do it for one. Honestly, I started crying.”

After a scoreless first quarter, Easton took a 6-0 lead 1:16 into the second quarter on O’Connor’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Jarin Winters. The PAT was no good.

Ennals returned the ensuing kickoff 70 yards down the sideline for a touchdown, with Frazier’s point-after kick putting Cambridge-SD up 7-6.

The Warriors appeared to grab momentum heading into halftime, when O’Connor hit Warner with a 29-yard touchdown pass and a 12-7 lead with 22.2 seconds remaining. O’Connor threw to Winters in the left flat on the two-point conversion attempt, but the Vikings stopped him well shy of the goal line.

Cambridge-SD responded swiftly again. After returning the kickoff to its 37, Beasley gained 12 yards, then weaved his way through the middle before breaking into the clear for a 51-yard touchdown sprint. Frazier’s PAT made it 14-12 with 2.3 seconds left in the half.

The Vikings extended their lead to 21-12 with 4:27 to go in the third quarter, when Beasley scored on a 1-yard run and Frazier drilled the PAT.

A 43-yard pass from O’Connor to Copper highlighted a five-play, 64-yard Easton scoring march that ended with Winters’ 3-yard touchdown run and Stofa’s extra-point kick, drawing the Warriors within 21-19 just 35 seconds into the fourth quarter.

Cambridge-SD extended its lead to 27-19 with 8:03 left in regulation on Beasley’s 11-yard touchdown run. But Frazier’s extra point was no good, keeping it a one-score game.

“We had plenty of opportunities to put the game away and we weren’t able to do it offensively, or special-teams wise,” Parker said. “We had the extra point that we had a bad snap on. That would have put the game at a two-score reach. And then offensively we didn’t finish on that one drive.

“Credit to Easton,” Parker continued. “They went 90 yards, no timeouts. And they had to score and they did. And they had to go for two and they got it. So credit to them and what they’re doing, and their kids and how they did it, and how they finished the game.”

A game that Warrior head coach Pat McGlinchey thought may have been slipping away after Cambridge-SD recovered Warner’s fumble at the 12.

“You don’t want to say it, but you feel like that’s the game,” McGlinchey said. “Just the same thing had happened at Parkside (a 31-14 Easton loss on Oct. 10). I felt we had stopped their momentum, they had punted the ball. We were going to get the ball and I felt like we couldn’t catch a break. In this game, you can’t really catch breaks, you make breaks; you make things happen.”

Easton made things happen with its last defensive stand in regulation, and its game-tying drive.

“I’m on cloud nine right now,” McGlinchey said.

“In all honesty I always have the little hope in the back of my head, like, ‘Hey, maybe this is going to happen,’” Greene said. “When I saw that we were down eight I was like, it’s a longshot. Especially when we dropped the punt. It wasn’t looking good. But then I put all the trust in my teammates and we all worked together to get one common goal and our goal was to win this game and we did that. I couldn’t believe it.”

Follow me on Twitter @Bill_Haufe. Email me at bhaufe@stardem.com

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