The Indian Trail football team had a miraculous comeback within its grasp Friday night and needed just one more big play in the game’s final moments.
And that’s just how things played out.
Junior quarterback Argjent Ismaili scrambled out of danger and floated a short pass to junior Clayton Bishop, who beat the Racine Park defense to the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown to give the Hawks a stunning 18-14 victory over a gritty Racine Park squad at Jaskwhich Stadium in the Southeast Conference opener for both teams.
The game-winning touchdown certainly didn’t play out like it was drawn up, Bishop said.
“I wasn’t open at first, but I just kept working,” he said. “I knew Argjent was going to find me if I kept going upfield.
“We just never give up. Nothing was going our way the whole game, but we kept fighting and fighting. We always battle through adversity.”
For Indian Trail coach Paul Hoffman, the game’s waning moments were a blur, as he seemed a bit stunned by what transpired.
The difference in the end actually was rather simple, he said.
“Emotionally, I was pretty numb there toward the end,” Hoffman said. “... Everything comes down to kids just making plays. That’s what it always is, it comes down to execution.
“We had plenty of bad execution, but we made probably three or four plays when it counted.”
Indian Trail (2-1 overall) trailed by two scores with just 3 minutes, 15 seconds left when it put together a furious rally.
Ismaili found senior Fred Ferati for a 9-yard touchdown with 2:37 left, and after junior kicker Payton Metzger added the extra point, Indian Trail had new life with just a two-point deficit.
The ensuing onside kick by sophomore Alex Hurtz was recovered by Indian Trail sophomore Jamar Thompson to give the Hawks the football at the Racine Park 43-yard line with 2:35 left.
And four plays later, the comeback was complete.
Indian Trail’s Amariyon Lynch-Gordon sealed the deal with an interception on Park’s final possession.
The Panthers (1-2) found the end zone on their opening possession on a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Ricky Canady. The seven-play, 74-yard scoring drive was set up by a 57-yard passing play from Canady to a wide-open Terry Gamble in the middle of the field.
Indian Trail drove all the way to the Racine Park 5 late in the first quarter but lost the first of two fumbles on the night to end that drive.
The Hawks’ first points came on a miscue by the Panthers, who sailed a punt snap out of the end zone for a safety just four seconds into the second quarter.
After two Park penalties on the free kick, Indian Trail drove to the Panthers’ 15 and Metzger drilled a 32-yard field goal to cut the deficit to a point at 6-5 at halftime.
Park appeared to put things out of reach midway through the fourth quarter when Isaiah Price scooped up a fumble off a bad snap and raced to the end zone for a 78-yard touchdown.
Canady added the two-point conversion, and the Panthers held a nine-point lead before the Hawks’ last minute comeback.
“We had seven minutes to play and were up two scores,” said Racine Park coach Danny Hernandez, a former St. Joseph standout. “You like the situation you’re in (at that point).”
Indian Trail enjoyed a huge advantage in the final statistics, as it piled up 440 total yards (174 rushing, 266 passing) to just 87 for Park (28 rushing, 59 passing).
In the second half, Park ran just 13 offensive plays for nine total yards.
The Hawks’ defense was lights-out all night, Hoffman said.
“Our defense played amazing football,” he said. “They gave up one play. The defense won the game. They gave us enough time to go execute and score a couple times. The defensive staff had a great plan, and our kids executed it.”
Ismaili completed 22-of-35 passes for 266 yards for Indian Trail. Junior Kameron Lee had eight catches for 97 yards, followed by Lynch-Gordon with six for 63 yards and Ferati with five for 55.
Indian Trail sophomore Xavier McWhorter had 22 carries for 107 yards.
The loss was difficult to accept, but the effort was there all night, Hernandez said.
“Our kids have always played hard, they’re fighters at heart,” he said. “They practice with purpose and passion. This one hurts, obviously, but credit to ITA for playing for 48 minutes.”