BLUFFTON – Junior receiver Michael Pearson knelt in the back left corner of the end zone and was not only slow to get up but reluctant.
The final play of the game – a 25-yard desperation pass from Bluffton quarterback Malcom Marshall – had fallen to the ground and squirted away somewhere. Pearson, meanwhile, stayed down.
Get up, one of the Bluffton assistant coaches told him, then pointed him to the line where the rest of the Tigers were shaking hands with the Garrett Railroaders. Be classy.
And quietly, but this time not reluctantly, Pearson took his place in line. Then the two teams walked away in different directions, but in a sense, united.
From the beginning – a Friday that ended with Garrett winning 36-34 – that was the nights theme; two teams down, two teams reeling from the others best punch, and two teams that shared the same quest of staying near the top of the ACAC.
But because a harried Bluffton finish fell short, Garrett (4-1, 2-0) handed Bluffton (4-1, 2-1) its first loss of the season.
We went, in five minutes, to a blowout to hanging on for our dear lives, Garrett coach Chris DePew told his team.
Indeed, the Railroaders had broken from a three-point halftime deficit into what appeared to be a commanding 36-20 lead when quarterback Noah Follett connected on a 45-yard touchdown pass to Jamison Wisel and a 37-yarder to Drake Landes less than two minutes apart.
Then senior running back Brandon Porter scored his third touchdown of the game on a 43-yard breakaway to send Garrett up by 16 entering the fourth.
We got kicked in the teeth, Bluffton coach Casey Kolkman said of the third quarter. We had every reason in the world to maybe play valiantly and lose 36-20 or something. There was every indicator in the world to do that. Thats not what our kids are about.
And back stormed the Tigers.
Joshua Streveler ran in from the 4 for his second touchdown with 7:08 still to play to make it a 36-28 game. And after getting the ball back, Bluffton scored again on Marshalls 30-yard screen pass to Austin Beer with 1:05 remaining. But the two-point conversion went incomplete.
I was sitting there thinking, man, why is it happening to us? Why now? said Porter, who ran for 167 yards with the three touchdowns and had an interception that stalled a Bluffton drive midway through the third quarter. Our senior leadership is great this year. Were all clicking together, and were going to keep yelling.
Still down by two, Bluffton recovered the on-side kick. And after getting to the Garrett 25, with 3.9 seconds left, the Tigers hoped for one, final miracle.
It was a good time, wasnt it? DePew said. We couldnt do much right in the fourth quarter, thats for sure. We played an awesome third quarter.
Bluffton threw everything at us and was one play short. They have a really good team. They really do.