Tears streamed down the faces of Douglas players as the clock hit zero and the Cody Broncs rejoiced an unlikely come-from-behind victory. Heath Hayes and Patrick French consoled teammate Kanyon Cecil as he buried his head in his lap, his eye black already smudged by tears. Dylon Case kept his helmet on, concealing the emotions of a heartbreaking loss as his father knelt beside him.
A sea of emotions on the field painted an accurate picture of the raw 12 minutes of game time that preceded it.
“I wish I could have another one,” senior Kanyon Cecil said as Bearcat players hugged family and friends following Friday’s home playoff loss. “I wish there was one more play left, one more second left on the clock to make something happen.”
For 36 minutes, the Bearcats appeared to be the superior football team. They called the right plays. They found the open receivers. They made the open field tackles. They seemed destined for something greater.
But in the span of a quarter, Cody erased an 18-point lead and pulled off the unimaginable. After trailing Douglas 26-8 to start the fourth quarter, the reigning 3A state champions chipped away at a seemingly insurmountable deficit and stunned the Bearcats 29-26 to advance to the semifinals.
“I’m in shock,” quarterback AJ Yeaman said. “We were up 20-0. I was feeling good going into the third quarter and then I don’t know, Cody just kicked it into overdrive. I was shocked about the whole thing.”
It all flipped in a flash. Douglas built a 20-0 lead four minutes into the second quarter behind three Yeaman touchdown passes. A 5-yard pass to Case near the end of the first quarter, a 21-yard score to Cecil following a Cody turnover and a 42-yard pass over the top to Christian Coffman combined to put the Broncs on their heels. A 7-yard touchdown run by Cody running back Charlie Beaudrie with 4:50 left in the second quarter was the Broncs’ lone score of the first half.
With time running out in the first half, Cody drove down the field determined to cut Douglas’ lead to one possession. After three failed attempts to put the ball in the end zone from the 7-yard line, Bronc quarterback Hunter Hays handed the ball off to Beaudrie on 4th-and-goal and the Bearcats stood tall at the goal-line.
“We had all momentum going into the second half,” Cecil recalled.
As they reflected upon their first half performance, head coach Jay Rhoades reminded his team that the game was far from decided. They had momentum on their side but there was still work to be done.
“They came to play tonight!,” a Cody player had yelled to his teammates as they ran off the field.
“It’s a 0-0 ballgame now,” Rhoades said to his players. “These guys are state champions. They’ve been in this situation before. They’re not going to quit.”
The Second Act
The Broncs received the ball to start the second half and quickly moved the ball into Douglas territory. After three first downs, Cody lined up in shotgun formation and went to the air. As Hays dropped back into the pocket, Aaron Oria blasted through the line of scrimmage and clipped Hays’ arm on his follow through. The pass floated into the air and landed in the arms of Case for an interception as Beaudrie helplessly looked around for the pass.
Two possessions later, on 2nd-and-16 from their own 34-yard line, Hays handed the ball off to Matt Sandoval and he was immediately stopped behind the line of scrimmage by a hoard of Douglas defenders. As Cody Pinkerton spun Sandoval to the ground, the ball popped loose and Coffman picked up the fumble and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown.
On the ensuing possession, Hays stepped back and looked for running back Jaemyn Wright. As he pump faked, Colby Davidson read Hays like a book, stepped in front of Wright and picked off the pass for Douglas’ second interception of the game. They had a commanding 26-8 lead and were 12 minutes away from advancing to the 3A semifinals.
Then the fourth quarter happened.
With 9:20 left in the game, Hays found a wide open Sandoval in the end zone for a 19-yard connection. The two-point conversion failed but the lead was now 26-14. Cody still had life.
After Douglas was forced to punt the ball away, the Broncs went back to the air. On 4th-and-8, Hays found Jakoby Vipperman down the sideline for an all-important 25-yard gain. On the next play, Hays rolled out of the pocket, saw Beaudrie slip behind the Bearcats secondary and fired a 15-yard pass into the end zone for a score. His second touchdown of the game cut the Douglas lead to 26-21 with 4:41 left.
“When they scored that touchdown, we knew we had to put something up on the board or we needed a defensive stop,” Cecil said.
“Cody went down and took it to us,” Rhoades added.
Needing a score to stop the obvious shift in momentum, Douglas went three-and-out and was forced to punt the ball back to the Broncs. Starting on their own 32-yard line, Cody had just under three minutes to drive 68 yards for a go-ahead score. For both teams, the fate of their season came down to one final drive.
Instead of the air attack that decimated the Bearcats’ secondary throughout much of the fourth quarter, Cody went back to the ground. Beaudrie chewed up game clock and wore down the Douglas defense, converting three times on third down to move the ball down to the 2-yard line with 23 seconds remaining.
“Dig deep!,” Dylan Hime screamed to teammates as Cody lined up for a 1st-and-goal with the season on the line.
Moments later, Beaudrie plowed into the end zone to give the Broncs their first lead of the game. And for added measure, the two-point conversion was good. Douglas players looked on in disbelief as the Cody sideline exploded.
The Bearcats put forth one last valiant attempt on their ensuing possession but turned the ball over, ending a game that once seemed so promising.
“We just ran out of gas,” Rhoades said.
Cecil added, “We had a lot of shots. A lot of chances. It was God’s plan, he wrote the script and everything happens for a reason. I just wish we could have another one.”
Planting A future Seed
As the Bearcats took a knee and huddled in the end zone, still in shock from what had transpired, senior Dax Read stood front and center and reminded teammates of everything they had accomplished over the course of the season.
They formed a strong bond. They overcame adversity during times of need. They played for one another and never took their season for granted.
“Remember this feeling,” Hime said to the team’s underclassmen as he fought through a weight of emotions. “Know that this isn’t what you want.”
“Cherish this,” Davidson added, referencing the brotherhood that is inevitably created during any athletic season.
“I’ve never really had a senior group talk that way at the end of a game,” Rhoades noted. “It shows where this senior group was as far as their leadership. They wanted to have an impact on our program and our team even when it was all over. It was a great thing to hear coming from those guys.”
For many Bearcats, Friday night was the final time they will wear the Douglas colors. It was their last chance to bring home a state championship and to keep the Bearcat tradition alive and well. But even if their season ended short of their ultimate goal, the players behind them will take the field next season and for countless seasons after, and continue growing what they’ve built.
“The hardest thing about this is not being able to return next year,” Cecil said. “Ever since I was in second grade, I’ve been dreaming of high school football – making it to the playoffs and the state championship, catching touchdowns. Now that it’s all real, it just goes too fast.
“I remember when I was a sophomore and the seniors said, ‘Time flies by, time flies by.’ I remember thinking that I just wanted a shot at varsity and, now that it’s over, I just want to go back to sophomore year.”
Cecil paused, then continued, “I’m hoping that our senior class has planted a seed. The look on (their) faces after the game, it was demoralizing and it was unpleasant, and I hope that plants a seed for the young guys to know that’s not what they want.
“I hope they go out next year and work harder than we did.”
If anything is true about Douglas’ season, it’s that they never quit. When they appeared to be down and out, they got back up and pushed back twice as hard. And at the end of every week, they reflected on the good and bad and came together to get better.
It’s what drove them to the end.
“They went out and did everything we asked,” Rhoades said. “I felt like we played better football each Friday than we did the week before and that’s all you can ask. It was always about how we could improve each week.”
“There was not one game where we didn’t get better,” Cecil added. “Even if we lost, we finished the game.
“We finished tonight but we just didn’t finish as good as Cody.”