WILMOT — With the strong arm of junior quarterback Argjent Ismaili and its stable of talented receivers, the Indian Trail football team’s offense kept attacking Wilmot’s defense with post routes and post-corner routes Friday night.

Joseph Tanski had seen enough.

With the Hawks facing third-and-goal from Wilmot’s 20-yard line with about a minute left and needing a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie the game in a non-conference season-opener at Frank Bucci Field, Ismaili fired a post-corner pass for junior receiver Clayton Bishop, who looked open for a moment.

But Tanski, a senior safety, read the play, intercepted the pass at his own goal line and returned it out to the 23-yard line.

Three runs by senior quarterback Zack Watson picked up a first down, and the Panthers bled the clock on their way to a 21-13 victory.

“We’ve been practicing all week, post-corner, post-corner, post-corner, and I (bit) and got beat a few times,” Tanski said. “And I’m like, ‘I’ve got to do something for the team.’ He did a post-corner, and I just read it, and I jumped on it and made a play.”

Ismaili, despite being sacked five times, finished 16-of-26 for 205 yards and a touchdown, but it was the final throw he couldn’t quite deliver.

“It was just a corner route,” Indian Trail coach Paul Hoffman said. “I think he hung onto it too long. That safety was able to sit, and he just underthrew it.”

Whatever the case, Tanski’s interception was the final momentum turn in a game that saw plenty of them. As usual in most Week 1 affairs, there were both sloppy plays and splendid plays, key penalties and unforced errors.

And, in this game, one of the most bizarre plays that anyone in attendance has ever seen.

More on that soon.

The first quarter was played to an uneventful scoreless tie.

Wilmot, in fact, didn’t even pick up a first down until 7 minutes, 30 seconds remained in the second quarter. On the very next play, though, Watson hit wide-open junior running back Leo Falletti, who went streaking up the seam, for a 46-yard touchdown and a sudden 7-0 lead.

“We were running the ball a lot, so I just went down and saw (the defense) crash and just lofted it up to Leo,” Watson said. “That definitely got me going.”

It sure did, as Watson — who finished with 167 rushing yards on 29 attempts — had runs of 24 and 12 yards on the Panthers’ next possession, which he finished with a 1-yard keeper over the right side for a 14-0 halftime lead.

Needing a spark in the third quarter, Indian Trail got one when senior defensive lineman Nathan Turney recovered a fumble by Falletti on the Hawks’ 38.

On the next play, Ismaili dropped a 46-yard dime over the middle after a play-action fake to junior Kameron Lee (six catches, 93 yards). A roughing-the-passer penalty on the play moved the ball to Wilmot’s 13, but it also knocked Ismaili — who was down on the turf for about a minute — out of the game.

But his absence was brief, and he returned after two plays off by firing an 11-yard strike to Lee for a touchdown over the middle with 6 minutes, 6 seconds left in the third quarter.

Watson got it back later in the quarter with his legs, though, somehow juking around three would-be Indian Trail tacklers up the middle before sprinting to the right sideline and racing to the pylon for a scintillating 54-yard touchdown run and a 21-7 lead.

“It’s his basketball background and all those things,” Square said of Watson. “He’s real shifty, real good hips, just a really hard kid to get a hand on and tackle.”

Said Hoffman: “I think they greased him up.”

Watson simply joked that his dad locked him outside growing up, so he had nothing to do but play sports.

“It’s instincts,” Watson said. “I’ve just played football with my friends. We played recess football all the time. It’s just instincts. … Drink from the hose, all that fun stuff.”

Still, the Hawks responded with a seven-play, 72-yard drive — keyed by Ismaili’s 34-yard strike to senior Fred Ferati (six catches, 87 yards) on the final play of the third quarter — that was capped by sophomore Xavier McWhorter’s 17-yard touchdown run. Indian Trail missed the extra point but was still within a score at 21-13 with 11:13 left in the game.

That’s when things got downright nutty.

Indian Trail’s defense forced a fourth-and-4 from Wilmot’s 47 on the next possession, and Tanski came in to punt. Indian Trail senior Curtis Tolefree III stuffed the punt, and the ball went careening inside Wilmot’s 20.

Running full speed, Tolefree tried to pick up the ball, but he kicked it. Whether he did that intentionally was impossible to tell, but the officials ruled he did, which is a 10-yard penalty. They assessed it from the line of scrimmage, thus giving the Panthers a first down after a play on which the Hawks seemed to be set up deep in Wilmot territory.

“I don’t know,” Hoffman said of the wild play, pretty much speaking for everyone at Frank Bucci Field. “... They ruled it that way.”

Tanski was happy they did.

“We just got really lucky,” he said. “It went from not blocking (Tolefree) to a bad punt, to then the guy made a silly play.”

The Hawks’ defense forced another punt, though, and Tanski’s 50-yard boomer was returned 40 yards to the Indian Trail 48 by Bishop following some slick moves.

The Hawks marched to a third-and-goal at the 3, but a critical holding penalty cost them 17 yards, pushed them back to the 20 and set up Tanski’s interception.

The hold was drawn by senior defensive end Connor Luoma, who stayed home on a play-action fake by Ismaili and pressured the Indian Trial quarterback as he rolled left.

“That was a huge play,” Square said. “That’s huge. We’ve kind of been talking about it all week. Watson plays our scout team quarterback, so he rolls out and does all those things.

“We really harped on making sure that you stay home and you stay in contain and keep the quarterback where he needs to be.”

For the Hawks, it was just another costly mistake. They lost two fumbles, had trouble snapping the ball and committed 12 penalties for 103 yards, including a hold in the first quarter that wiped out a would-be 17-yard touchdown run by Bishop on a jet sweep.

“We didn’t play disciplined football,” Hoffman said. “… It was a good test. We figured out where we are. We need to get better at tackling, we need to get better at blocking, we need to get better at throwing, we need to get better at catching. All the fundamentals.

“... We turn the page (Saturday) morning. We get over it, whether it’s a win or a loss, you get over it (and) you move on to the next one.”

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