Homecoming heartbreak

Published 2:15 am Saturday, September 19, 2009

OPP - St. James running back John Slayton scored a 1-yard touchdown with 4.2 seconds remaining to spoil Opp’s homecoming as the visiting Trojans took a 20-17 victory.

Following the game, Opp head coach Jack Whigham was visibly shaking while walking off the field, and was helped into a truck by assistant coaches, who quickly took him to nearby Mizell Memorial Hospital.

Opp Superintendent Michael Smithart was at the hospital late Friday night and said Whigham was doing “better,” and that the coach had possibly suffered from extreme dehydration.

“Right now, he’s doing better,” he said. “They’re saying it was probably dehydration, but he’s improving.”

St. James faced a third-and-10 from its own 15-yard-line with 22.6 seconds left when quarterback Lee Ketzler launched a pass toward senior tight end Brandyn Baker, who leapt over Opp defenders at about midfield and rumbled down to the Opp 1-yard-line before he was tackled.

Opp (1-3, 1-2 in Class 4A, Region 2) called timeout to set up its defense, but Slayton scored on the ensuing play. The Bobcats had one last gasp of hope, but Gavin Free’s pass was intercepted as time expired.

“We never stopped believing,” said St. James coach Karl Smeltzer. “Brandyn Baker is a senior who’s getting looked at by several colleges, and this game tells you why. He just goes out there and makes plays.”

Opp looked like it was in great shape, leading 17-13 with 1:17 left when Zane Christian intercepted a Ketzler pass, giving the Bobcats the ball on the St. James 11-yard-line. Rather than try for a touchdown, the Bobcats elected to kneel the ball on two straight plays, with St. James calling a timeout after each kneel. Facing third-and-14, Opp’s Josh Scarborough ran for 9 yards to get down to the St. James 6, and the Trojans called their last timeout with 1:00 remaining.

On the ensuing fourth-and-5 play, Scarborough was tackled short of first down, setting up the Trojans’ late-game heroics.

St. James’ victory ruined what had been an impressive second half for the Bobcats. Opp trailed 13-0 at halftime, but responded quickly in the second half with a nine-play, 74-yard touchdown drive that featured all running plays. Richard Davis scored from 2 yards out with 8:25 left in the third quarter and Opp cut St. James’ lead to 13-6 after Hunter Jones added the extra point.

The Bobcats then held St. James (3-1, 2-1) to three-and-out and got the ball back on the Opp 49-yard-line. Again, the Bobcats ran the ball on each play of a six-play, 51-yard scoring drive. Davis scored on a 13-yard run and Jones added the extra point to give Opp a 14-13 lead with 4:04 left in the third quarter.

“Give Opp credit,” Smeltzer said. “They came out and wanted it more in the third quarter. We knew they were going to run, but they just wanted it more.”

Opp increased its lead later in the quarter when Jones kicked a 31-yard field goal. The scoring drive was set up when Josh Thompson intercepted a pass from Ketzler.

Davis finished the game with 20 carries for 139 yards and two touchdowns.

Opp hosts Class 3A Straughn on Friday night in a non-region contest.