A crucial early season Region 5-5A contest at Page High School didn’t come down to just one play. It came down to three.
Playing in a region title rematch from last season, visiting Shelbyville Central served up 1st-and-goal from the Page 6-yard line with just one second remaining trailing 34-29. The Golden Eagles converted a potential game-winning touchdown when quarterback Kade Cunningham handed off to Slayde Simmons, who fired right back to his QB for the TD, but a flag erased the score because of an illegal man down field.
With no time left, Shelbyville lined up one more time from the Page 11 as the Patriots defense attempted to summon up another game-sealing stop. A similar play resulted in a high pass intended for Simmons, who was surrounded Patriots in the end zone, and for the second time, fans tried to rush the field – this time the Page faithful – and for the second time, a flag was thrown.
Pass interference was called. The clock still read zeroes and one more down was awarded. Both teams lined back up at 6 as most fans from both teams now lined the end zone waiting to celebrate the wild finish.
“I felt like I was in college or a pro, you know how you see it on TV,” Patriot senior Bubba Johnson said. “My heart was so dropped. I couldn’t sit down. I couldn’t do anything – just pray to God. That’s it.”
Cunningham peeled out to his right toward the far sideline with Patriot defender Max VanLandingham matching his strides and closing in. Cunningham flipped a short pass to Simmons, who jumped out of the end zone to secure the pass as Page corner Colby Burns tried to poke the ball loose. Simmons hauled in the ball, but his knee went down on the 1-yard line as he tried to dive back toward the end zone all while attempting to stay in bounds with Page’s Nolan Henry draped over him.
The play unfolded right in front of an official, who without hesitation ruled Simmons short. Page escaped with a comeback 34-29 win to stay unbeaten at 3-0.
“It was crazy. We all went nuts,” Page senior Cade Walker said. “From where I was, all you could see was the ref call him short, and that’s all you could ask for and we all went nuts.”
The two rivals are no stranger to tight finishes. Page used a field goal in overtime to hold off the Golden Eagles in the second-to-last week of the regular season in 2018 to capture the region title in dramatic fashion.
“That is a class program, all class program,” Page coach Charles Rathbone said. “It didn’t play out the way I thought, but it feels good to be out on top.
“I mean, two of the best teams in the region fighting it out, so you knew it was going to come down to the end.”
Johnson scored his third touchdown of the night with 2:24 to play to give the home team a 34-29 lead. Walker’s pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage trying to go for 2, leaving the door open for a Shelbyville win with a touchdown.
The sophomore Cunningham, who threw for 292 yards and two TDs, guided his team into Page territory, but faced 3rd-and-8 from the Patriot 43 with just 10 seconds to play. He slung a pass to Wright across the middle who found space before finally being brought down on the sideline for a 37-yard catch-and-run with just one second remaining.
“I got put in at safety, to be honest for the first time since like freshman year,” said Walker, who also threw for 220 yards. “I saw a catch over the middle and in my head, I’m like, ‘Oh no, I’m going to have to make a tackle.’”
The senior quarterback saved the touchdown, but Wright stopped the clock by getting out of bounds to set up the three-play finale.
“We got it down and we put trust in our defense,” Walker said. “You know, my heart kind of sunk a little bit after that first play, but they called it back, and I knew our defense was going to stand tall.
“Adversity. Coach says that his word is adversity. We faced it and overcame it tonight.”
Two Walker TDs in the first half – an 8-yard run and a 27-yard pass to Miles Bonn on 3rd-and-12 – along with Johnson’s first rushing score gave the home team a 21-8 lead with 4:28 to play in the first half.
Cunningham ignited his team with an 84-yard bomb to Simmons on the next possession to make it 21-15 with 3:58 left in the second. After a costly Page fumble with 2:23 to play, Cunningham fired another long ball, this one covering 37 yards to Devyn DeFilipo for a 22-21 edge at the break.
“We made a lot of mistakes and we have a lot of things to correct, but we are a tough out,” Rathbone said. “Our kids play hard.”
Demarcus Smalls scored his second rushing touchdown on a 4-yard run five minutes into the second half for a 29-21 Golden Eagles lead, but Walker guided another scoring drive before handing off to Johnson for another tough rushing score with 2:06 left in the frame.
Both teams traded interceptions in the fourth with Brady Buckley’s pick leading to Johnson’s final TD – the eventual game-winner.
Johnson closed with 78 yards on the ground and the three scores, while Bonn hauled in nine catches for 117 yards with that 27-yard TD in the first half. Defensively, Austin Harshew showed up everywhere and made 20 tackles. Nick Hurd added six tackles and a sack, while VanLandingham also collected a sack to go with four stops.
“I’m very proud of this group and how they carried themselves and how they battled back,” Rathbone said. “Every time they got down, they battled back and persevered.”
The Patriots will take on Lipscomb Academy in Week 4 at home with kickoff set for 7 p.m.
Page 34, Shelbyville Central 29
SCHS – 8 14 7 0 – 29
PHS – 7 14 7 6 – 34
1Q 6:06 S – Demarcus Smalls 13 run (Kade Cunningham run);
1Q 1:24 P – Cade Walker 8 run (Chase Tidmore kick);
2Q 11:43 P – Miles Bonn 27 pass from Walker (Tidmore kick);
2Q 4:28 P – Bubba Johnson 1 run (Tidmore kick);
2Q 3:58 S – Slayde Simmons 84 pass from Cunningham (Harrison Canter kick);
2Q 1:28 S – Devyn DeFilipo 38 pass from Cunningham (Canter kick);
3Q 7:06 S – Smalls 4 run (Canter kick);
3Q 2:06 P – Johnson 1 run (Tidmore kick);
4Q 2:24 P – Johnson 1 run (pass failed).