David Tucker's 32-yard field goal with 17 seconds remaining lifted three-time defending SCISA champion Hammond to a come-from-behind, 24-21 victory against Ben Lippen at Edens Stadium on Friday.
Tucker's game-winning kick was set by Aaron Walters' interception and 28-yard return to the BL 37-yard line with 47 seconds to go. The Skyhawks got one first down, then turned it over to their new kicker - who missed a PAT kick in the third quarter - to win the game.
"I really didn't feel any pressure because we still had overtime if I missed," Tucker said.
"The snap and hold were good, and I got it off clean."
Walters, the only returning senior starter on offense, was huge down the stretch. Catching Ben Lippen in a blitz, he turned a middle screen pass from Dave Nidiffer into a 31-yard touchdown with 1:52 remaining. Nidiffer then hit Hunter George with the two-point conversion to tie the score at 21.
"The screen is a bread and butter play for us, but we haven't been executing it very well," Walters said.
"We got the job done tonight when we really needed it."
The Falcons were not content to run out the clock and go into overtime, even though they started the ensuing possession at their own 7. It proved to be a critical mistake.
Ben Lippen moved to the Hammond 49 with a minute to play. After a sack and a timeout, quarterback Joey Carter went for broke on a deep throw that Walters picked off at the 35 and returned to the BL 37.
"We were getting kind of antsy on defense, so I think that timeout really helped us get ourselves settled," Walters said. "Coach (Erik) Kimrey told me to read Joey's eyes and try and make a move on the ball. I saw Joey try to look me off, but when the ball was up in the air, I got a good break on it."
It was a tough loss for the Falcons (5-2, 1-2 SCISA Region 1-3A).
"We had some chances to build a bigger lead but didn't get it done," Falcons coach Reggie Shaw said.
"My kids played their hearts out, but you have to give Hammond a lot of credit for hanging tough early and then making the plays at the end they had to make."
The Skyhawks (6-0, 1-0) finished with 430 yards on offense, despite having to turn to third-string running back Hunter George, who had not worked on offense since his junior varsity days. George had one carry in the first half after starter B.J. Bennett left with a shoulder injury. George finished with 136 yards rushing on 20 carries and one touchdown.
"The kids showed a lot of character and poise," Skyhawks coach Kimrey said.
"They overcame turnovers, injuries and cramping and a very good football team."
Ben Lippen 0 14 0 7- 21
Hammond 0 0 13 11- 24
BL-Ross Fleming 4 run (Tuck Benefield kick), 7:14
BL-Sammy Joe White 17 interception return (Benefield kick), 7:07
H-Hunter George 2 run (David Tucker kick), 8:18
H-Dave Nidiffer 2 run (kick failed), 0:10
BL-Benefield 1 run (Benefield kick), 10:11
H-Aaron Walters 31 pass from Nidiffer (George pass from Nidiffer), 1:52
H-FG Tucker 32, 0:17
First downs 15 22
Rushing 27-103 39-235
Passing yards 243 195
Att-Com-Int 28-12-2 35-17-2
Fumbles-lost 2-2 2-1
Penalties 9-65 4-35
Punts 3-106 2-73
Rushing-BL, Jackson-Patrick 13-47, Carter 4-(-13), Benefield 4-16, Fleming 4-18. H, Bennett 15-81, Walters 2-15, George 20-136.
Passing-BL, Carter 12-28-2-243. H, Nidiffer 17-35-2-195.
Receiving-BL, Wilson 3-66, Fleming 4-48, Roseborough 4-109. H, Walters 5-94, Millhouse 4-28.