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Football: Will Maher's 5 TD passes deliver home win for Horizon Christian
Will Maher
Horizon Christian Academy quarterback Will Maher escapes the pocket in the win against Johnson Ferry Christian. - photo by Derrick Richemond

Horizon Christian Academy decided to do things differently against Johnson Ferry Christian. Will Maher got the start at quarterback, and Isaac Bealer played safety and wide receiver.

Well, it surely worked out for them, as Maher threw five touchdowns — four of them to Bealer, who added a rushing touchdown — in a 49-42 win on Friday at Warrior Field.

“We made that change on Sunday,” Horizon head coach Damon Taylor said. "We have a lot of faith in Will and we also have faith in Bealer, who is a playmaker. It’s a balance of Will being a great athlete and leader, and Bealer being a great playmaker."

Johnson Ferry was the first team to get on the scoreboard when running back Peter Ruggieri punched it in from the 2-yard line. On the 2-point conversion, Liam Random intercepted the ball to keep the score 6-0.

Horizon’s first offensive series was balanced between the passing and rushing attacks.

On first down at the 23-yard line, Bealer went in motion and got the handoff. However, he was surrounded by the Saints defense, and that was when Bealer made a cut inside and ran in the opposite direction for a 23-yard touchdown.

After a short kick by the Warriors, Johnson Ferry looked to add more points on the board at their 45-yard line.

Despite Ruggieri's good moves at the line of scrimmage, Carson Chapman immediately greeted him, and Thomas Hair dropped his shoulder for a big hit, which caused the ball to be fumbled. Hair quickly fell on it to give the ball back to Horizon’s offense.

Intentional grounding stalled the drive, and the Warriors were forced to punt the ball.

A passing touchdown by the Saints in the second quarter allowed them to reassert their lead.

After a big run by Hair, Maher lobbed a pass to Bealer, who beat his man at the line of scrimmage for a 20-yard touchdown reception.

Johnson Ferry faced a third down and lined up trips right. Quarterback Lucas Scheffer took the snap, and Avery Blanton came from his outside linebacker position for a big sack to the 40-yard line.

Horizon Christian had 2:19 to work with before halftime approached.

Maher's first pass went to Random, who was brought down at the visitors’ 30-yard line. Then Bealer ran a corner route to the 21-yard line. As the offensive series progressed, Maher looked Bealer’s way on an out-and-in route. This time, the duo connected for the touchdown to expand the lead to 20-12.

With under 25 seconds left in the second quarter, the Saints didn’t hesitate to try to get a late score in. In fact, they almost did when they ran a Hail Mary, and Ruggieri was able to locate the ball but fell inches away from the end zone as time expired.

The Saints, though, got a 56-yard touchdown from Ruggieri on their first offensive series coming out of the half.

The Warriors responded with a touchdown of their own on their very first play. Maher showcased his arm strength, throwing a long pass to Random, who was left open for a 79-yard touchdown.

On the Saints’ next play a bad snap goes past Scheffer, and Andrew Williamson, from his defensive line position, accelerates past the Johnson Ferry offensive line to recover the fumble. 

With 5:05 left, Scheffer made shifty moves to slice through for a 10-yard touchdown. Then on the 2-point conversion, Scheffer does a fake jet sweep to Ruggieri and runs it in himself with ease.

After Maher throws a pass well above Bealer’s head, the Saints wasted no time getting into the end zone. On their fifth play of the drive, Scheffer passes to a wide-open Aiden Fisher for a 19-yard touchdown.

The Warriors relied on Bealer and Hair during the ensuing drive, as each managed big chunk plays to get in the red zone. The Warriors capitalize on the drive on Bealer’s 11-yard touchdown reception. 

Johnson Ferry finished off a 64-yard drive with Ruggieri rushing in for the touchdown and game-tying 2-point conversion with 6:34 remaining.

The Warriors went for it on fourth-and-2, calling a tricky play to Blanton. Then a crucial facemask penalty by the Saints moved Horizon closer to the end zone.

On the following play, Maher connected with Bealer for a 14-yard touchdown for the final score.

“Under pressure, we got it done,” Taylor said on the win, which improved the Warriors to 3-4 overall and 2-1 in GAPPS 8-man football Region 1-2A. 

“To be honest, no,” Maher said when asked if he expected such a big debut. “I just wanted to win this game, and I trusted my coaches to make the right decision. I didn’t see this happening, so I just took the role they gave me and did the best I could.”