One play left West Forsyth’s players on top of the world. The next ended their season.
Moments after Timmy Hartshorn put West ahead with a 46-yard field goal in overtime, Parkview running back Justis Rosser broke a 15-yard touchdown run that gave the Panthers a 26-23 upset victory over the No. 7-ranked Wolverines in the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs on Friday at The Den.
It was a tough loss to swallow for a West squad seeking its second consecutive trip to the state quarterfinals. The Wolverines had won 11 consecutive home games dating back to Oct. 29, 2010.
"[It was] just two good teams going at it and one made one more play than the other," Wolverines senior linebacker Mohamed Camara said.
"We’re all appreciative of everything we’ve achieved this year and we owe it all to the coaches, our parents and coming in every day and fighting hard. ... We realize that we had a really good season."
The Wolverines gained 252 yards of offense to the Panthers’ 228, but Parkview’s size, speed and physicality turned the tide after West (10-2) pulled ahead 17-7 midway through the second quarter. The Panthers (9-3) held the Wolverines, who came into the day averaging 42 points per game, to only three points over the final 29:16 of regulation.
The Panthers’ defense is allowing only 14 points per game this season.
"[At] this level, you’ve got to play at the top, you can’t have a letdown," West head coach Frank Hepler said. "We just let down a little bit, but [Parkview] did a great job.
"They’re big, they’re physical. You don’t beat Grayson [or] the teams in their region that they beat without being good."
But early on the Region 6 champion Wolverines appeared to be in control, as they scored 17 unanswered points after Parkview, the No. 3 seed from Region 8, took a 7-0 lead on a 42-yard touchdown pass from Rob Youngblood (5 of 9, 99 passing yards, TD) to Matt Marshall just over three minutes into the game.
After being held to a three-and-out on each of their first two possessions, the Wolverines drove the ball 76 yards on their third offensive series and tied the game 7-7 on a three-yard keeper run by quarterback A.J. Erdely.
Parkview muffed the ensuing kickoff and Camara fell on the ball at the Panthers’ 28. A 25-yard pass from Erdely (11 of 16, 131 passing yards) to Brian Porter moved the Wolverines to the 3-yard line, and Camara carried the ball into the end zone on second and goal to boost the lead to 14-7 after Hartshorn’s extra point.
After the Wolverines forced a three-and-out on Parkview’s ensuing series, Hartshorn kicked the first of his three field goals, a 25-yarder, to increase West’s lead to 17-7 midway through the second quarter.
"You keep fighting," Parkview head coach Cecil Flowe said.
"We gave them a touchdown when we fumbled the ball [on the kickoff]. You just have to keep playing.
"Games like this are great chess matches because they’re scheming and we’re scheming."
Parkview answered with a methodical, 78-yard drive that drained almost six minutes off the clock and ended with a five-yard touchdown run by Shaq Vereen with 44 seconds left in the second period.
Connor Vandenbos broke through the line and blocked the extra point attempt, keeping West ahead 17-13 going into halftime.
West held Parkview to a three-and-out on the opening series of the second half, but the Wolverines were forced to settle for another 25-yard field goal by Hartshorn despite starting the drive at the Panthers’ 43.
Parkview tied the game at 20 just 15 seconds into the fourth quarter, when Vereen closed another 78-yard drive with a six-yard touchdown run and the extra point snuck through the uprights.
The game came to a stop for about 25 minutes in the fourth quarter, as Parkview center Blake Dunham lay motionless on the field before being loaded onto a stretcher and taken away by ambulance.
Flowe said Dunham was alert and had full range of motion when he left the field. The two teams came together at midfield at one point and kneeled to pray for the senior lineman.
When the action resumed, West forced a Parkview punt and got the ball back at its own 26 with 5:06 remaining. The Wolverines advanced the ball near midfield, but Jake Wieczorek (14 carries, 62 rushing yards; 5 receptions, 60 receiving yards) lost a fumble that the Panthers recovered at their own 49.
Parkview moved the ball to the West 41, but the Wolverines’ defense tightened up and forced a punt near the end of regulation.
One week after defeating Walton in double overtime, Parkview came up big in an extra period once again.
West got the ball first in OT, but Parkview sacked Erdely for a 16-yard loss on second down, setting up the long field goal by Hartshorn on fourth down.
On the next play, Rosser bounced a run out to the left sideline and went 15 yards for the deciding score.
"Justis Rosser, he’s a gamer, he loves to play," Flowe said.
"We lined up and gave them a formation that really was the [same as the] first play of the game [for us], except, we [ran] it to our fullback [the first time]. They were running heavy to the fullback and we ran around to the left."
Parkview’s players mobbed Rosser in a celebration in the end zone, while the Wolverines were left to come to terms with what was, for many players, their final game on a football field.
"It’s always the goal to get a state championship, but I tell them, ‘Only one gets that ring at the end.’ Thirty-one [teams] go home unhappy and unfortunately we’re one of them," Hepler said.
"I’m proud of the kids, I’m proud of this coaching staff, I’m proud of the community for what’s been accomplished here. I saw many of our former players here and tears in their eyes tonight.
"It just shows we’re building something good here."