By Scott Nickerson, EAN Sportswriter
Despite four lead changes in the 4th quarter of the Class 6A Region 3 contest between the Helena Huskies and the visiting Stanhope Elmore High Mustangs, the most dramatic moment of the night came in the final minute with Helena leading 25-18 when Mustang quarterback Trey Killingsworth connected with receiver Jackson Thomas for a deep pass that turned into a stunning 82-yard touchdown pass.
The apparent score sent the visiting sideline into a frenzy, but the most immediate question fans asked was if the Mustangs would go for the extra point or try for two. The Mustangs had failed to convert the extra point on any of three previous touchdowns, with an extra point sailing wide right, a mishandled snap on the second point after attempt, and a failed two point conversion. The decision to attempt a game-tying extra point kick, or a game-winning two point conversion, was a decision that Stanhope Elmore Coach Brian Bradford did not have a chance to make. A yellow flag on the field near the line of scrimmage turned the Mustangs’ celebration into dejection. The referees ruled that the Mustangs had committed a holding penalty during the play. Instead of attempting a game winning or tying play, the Mustangs faced a 2nd 24 more than 90 yards away from the end zone. They were unable to convert a 1st down, with Helena hanging on for a 25-18 win.
The outcome was particularly hard to swallow because the Mustangs were seemingly in control of the game throughout the 1st half. Helena was unable to get anything going against a stingy Mustang defense, and the Mustang offense continually moved the ball deep into Helena territory. But time and time again, the Huskies defense held. Stanhope Elmore moved the ball inside Helena territory on four consecutive possessions, but was unable to come away with any points. On one possession, Killingsworth had a tipped pass that was intercepted at the Huskies 1-yard line.
Through the 1st three quarters, Killingsworth had a rough night, accounting for four turnovers, throwing two interceptions and losing two fumbles. After the fourth turnover, Killingsworth leaned back on the sideline bench and looked up at the sky in exasperation. Coach Bradford did not give up on his quarterback, and in turn, Killingsworth turned in one of the most impressive 4th quarter performances of any this year.
The fireworks started early in the 4th quarter with the Mustangs trailing 10-6. Killingsworth found receiver Teddy Harris for a 25-yard pass that moved the ball to the Helena 27-yard line. In a sign of things to come, the Mustangs were called for a holding and the ball was pushed back to the 39-yard line. Facing a 3rd and 22, Killingsworth found Thomas for a 39-yard touchdown, and a 12-10 lead.
On Helena’s next possession, they were able to pick up an initial first down after the referees called another penalty against the Mustangs, this time for targeting. The Huskies did not let the opportunity go to waste, converting a 3rd and 9 and then a 3rd and 14 before a rushing score from 9-yards out put the Huskies back in front 17-12 halfway through the final quarter.
Killingsworth went to work again when the Mustangs got the ball back, finding Chase Eddings for an 11-yard reception on 3rd and 7, before DJ McGhee caught a tipped pass from 27-yards out to put the Mustangs ahead with less than three minutes remaining.
With Stanhope Elmore leading 18-17, the Huskies did not take long to respond, with quarterback Mac Turner finding Jayden Jackson for a 52-yard touchdown just 45 seconds after the Mustangs score. The Huskies two point conversion was good, putting them ahead 25-18 with 2:05 left in the game, setting up the dramatic final sequence that almost resulted in an all-time classic pass from Killingsworth to Thomas.
For the night, Killingsworth connected on 20 of 32 passes for 244 yards, with 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Through 8 games, Killingsworth has thrown for 14 touchdown passes. Teddy Harris, DJ McGhee, and Jackson Thomas all had a touchdown reception. Two weeks after posting a career day against Calera with four touchdown rushes, running back Antonio Trone was bottled up, rushing the ball 17 times for only 36 yards.
With the loss, the Mustangs fall to 4-4 overall, and 3-2 in Region 3. The Mustangs will return home for their final two regular season games, taking on rival Wetumpka next Friday night. A Stanhope Elmore win will create a 3-way tie between the Mustangs, Indians, and Huskies, for the #2 seed in Region 3. A Wetumpka win will clinch the #2 seed for the Indians and a home playoff game in the 1st round of the Class 6A Playoffs.