Hot Springs' season ends in playoff heart-breaker
Valley Press | November 2, 2022 12:00 AM
For all its purported roughness and toughness, football can also be a cruel breaker of hearts.
When they say it was a shame one team had to lose, they were probably talking about the last-second, overtime 55-54 win by the trio-co-op Hawks from the small towns of Chester-Joplin-Inverness over home-standing Hot Springs Saturday afternoon in Montana high school six-player playoff action.
This came on literally the last play of the game under Montana overtime high school football rules.
Also known in some parts as the Kansas tie-breaker overtime resolution, the result was a broken-hearted Hot Springs team and a weary but happy CJI team. The win moves the Hawks on to the next playoff round against Bridger, a 40-6 winner Saturday over Richey-Lambert.
For Hot Springs, the supposed rebuilding season ends with a 7-3 record and the promise of a sophomore-heavy team that made it to the playoffs.
The two teams traded scores in the first quarter, with both showing team speed on long TD runs or runs to set up short touchdowns.
By the end of the first quarter, Hot Springs held a 13-8 lead.
That would change in quarter number two when Savage Heat senior Garth Parker, the team’s lone upper classman, plowed through the CJI defense on a six-yard scoring run. The extra point was good and the Heat held a 20-8 advantage with just over seven minutes to play in the first half. Parker’s run had been set up by a long interception return.
Hot Springs had little time to celebrate Parker’s run. On the ensuing kickoff, the JPI return man scooted outside and turned on the after-burners for a 56-yard touchdown return. The PAT was good and the Hawks had moved to within four points of the lead, 20-16.
Both defenses tightened and the first half came to an end with the Heat ahead 20-16.
Hot Springs got the ball to open the second half and wasted little time moving downfield via long passes and runs.
They would score on a 20-yard TD play from sophomore quarterback Nick McAllister, stretching their lead to 26-16 with 8:27 to play in the third quarter.
However, CJI struck back quickly, moving the kickoff downfield and scoring on a long run to bring the Hawks back within four, 26-22.
Midway through the third frame, Hot Springs had mounted another long drive that brought them to the CJI three-yard line. The Hawks intercepted McAllister’s pass shy of the end zone and quickly drove the length of the field before scoring on a 23-yard running play that put the visitors ahead 28-26.
A CJI facemask penalty on the following kickoff help the Heat move to near midfield, where McAllister launched a 42-yard touchdown pass that re-established their lead at 33-28 with just under two minutes to play in the third quarter.
The Hawks scored to open the fourth quarter and re-take the lead at 35-33, then used a fake punt to set up another score a short time later, giving CJI a 41-33 lead on a 45-yard run up the middle for six.
On the next set of downs, Hot Springs marched steadily downfield, only to have it’s long drive spoiled by an interception in the end zone, turning the ball over to CJI on their own 15 minutes into the final quarter.
Hot Springs scored on a two-point safety on their next defensive stand, moving the score to 41-35.
With time ticking away in the final frame, McAllister hooked up with Parker on a game-tying touchdown pass that sent the game into the overtime period knotted at 41-each.
Under Montana tie-breaker rules, each team gets the ball on their own 15 yard line and has a chance to score. If the other team cannot match or beat any score by the first team with the ball, the game is over.
In this case, CJI scored a touchdown on it’s first play of the overtime arrangement and added a one-point PAT for a 48-41 lead. Hot Springs tied the score at 48 on its next possesion.
Hot Springs took the ball, also at the 15, and scored on a short TD pass to Parker, giving the Heat a 54-48 lead. The PAT was no good.
On CJI’s next turn with the ball, they scored on a short run, then added the extra point to give them the 55-54 win.
The two visibly exhausted teams shook hands at midfield then gathered in team groups to discuss the marathon game in which they had just played.
One team was no doubt tired but elated, while the other suffered the heartbreak of defeat.