By Bill Sorrell
Friday night lights.
Collierville running back Peyton McCay prayed they would not interfere.
Lining up in a wheel route on the last play of the first half on his own 46-yard line, McCay raced down field waiting for a bomb to be dropped by quarterback Matt Connors.
In a play called by Collierville offensive coordinator Tommy Miller and seldom used this season, McCay watched Connors step up in the pocket knowing that he was wide open. Collierville wide receiver Marcus Bersoza was in man coverage.
“I was like, ‘Man, maybe he will just run it. Please don’t take a sack.’ But then I guess it’s either Matt being such a great quarterback or maybe we have an unspoken telepathy since we are such good friends because he looked up and threw the ball,” said McCay.
Something happened on the way to the perfect play.
“Being honest, these lights. I lost it in the lights. I had a pretty big drop last week (against Wilson Central). I look at that thing and I was like, ‘Oh man. I can’t see it. Thanks a lot Matt for throwing it right up in the lights.’ I found it about five yards ahead of me. I can’t drop this one. I caught it,” said McCay, who scored on the 54-yard play to tie the TSSAA second-round playoff game with Cordova 14-14 at the half on Friday at Cordova.
“The last time we played Cordova I got caught at the 1-yard line. It’s going to take God Himself to tackle me before I get into the end zone. I ran to the BACK of the end zone. I wasn’t going to get stopped there.”
Spurred by Collierville’s tie with no time left in the first half, Cordova made halftime adjustments, scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to rally to a 28-21 victory and set up a quarterfinal showdown with defending 6A state champions Ravenwood at 7 p.m. this Friday in Cordova. The Raptors (7-5) defeated Mt. Juliet 38-35 to advance.
Cordova had beaten Collierville 41-14 in the team’s first meeting on Sept. 16.
“I wasn’t surprised. I knew they were going to come out with something different because we played them earlier,” said Cordova defensive tackle Quinton Bohanna, who has committed to play at the University of Kentucky.
“I was more mad than surprised,” said Bohanna of McCay’s touchdown. “It wasn’t supposed to be a game.”
Collierville Head Coach Mike O’Neill said it was a sloppy game in the first half.
“They fumbled the ball. We got the ball deep in the red zone. We couldn’t score,” he said. “It didn’t start out, I guarantee, like both coaches wanted it to.”
There were turnovers. Cordova had five fumbles and lost two. Collierville fumbled twice and lost both. There was an interception by both quarterbacks.
Cordova quarterback Christian Arrambide threw an interception to Collierville ‘s Alex Smith at the Cordova 38 with 10:55 left in the first quarter. The Dragons’ drive stalled on fourth down-and-four and Dylan Scott’s 48-yard field goal was short.
Arrambide then fumbled at his 27-yard line and Collierville defensive lineman Devan Reynolds recovered at the 24.
Connors then moved the Dragons toward a score. He threw a first-down pass to Mikho Grandison to the 14-yard line. But on third down Connors threw an interception standing at his 10-yard line to Cordova’s Isaiah Norman who grabbed it in the end zone and ran to the 2.
Photo by Roger Cotton
The Cordova Wolves came from behind to beat Collierville 28-21 Friday night at home in the second round of the TSSAA 6A tournament. Cordova will host the quarterfinal game against Ravenwood this Friday. The Raptors are the defending state champions. PICTURED: Collierville junior quarterback Matt Connors looks down field as the pocket collapses around him.
The Wolves would get as close as the Dragons’ 23-yard line on a 13-play, 78-yard drive before Leeyner Sarabia missed a 37-yard field goal, with 3:14 left in the first quarter.
With the game tied at 7-7 with 3:24 left in the second quarter, McCay fumbled at his 25-yard line, setting up a Cordova touchdown. Kentrell Torrance recovered.
In the third quarter, Cordova’s Jacob Jacques fumbled a punt that John Hassell recovered at the Collierville 36-yard line.
“We had a heart-to-heart talk with those guys at halftime on how bad we were. It wasn’t football related in the first half, it was all about attitudes and egos got in the way,” said Jones.
The Wolves were also stymied by 18 penalties throughout the game for 128 yards. Collierville had three for 30 yards.
“Those were self-inflicted penalties we have to correct. We have to do a better job of controlling our emotions. A lot of guys have never played in a second-round playoff game before. We are excited to win it,” said Jones.
Jones has been to the third round before as head coach at Westwood High School.
Taking over for starting quarterback Devin Coleman who sustained a neck injury in the regular-season finale against Germantown, Arrambide, a junior, was stepping onto a big stage. He completed 15-of-29 passes for 233 yards and threw two touchdowns. He led the Wolves to a game-tying touchdown, a 55-yard pass, his longest of the game, to Edward Johnson with 11:32 left to play.
Arrambide threw the game winner to Jacoby Hewitt, a 16-yard touchdown, with 5:35 left.
“He grew up,” said Cordova running back Harold Lacy. “When our starting quarterback went down with a neck injury, Christian stepped up.”
Said Arrambide, who is 6-1, 175, said, “My goal is not to get rattled. I learned from my mistakes and listen to what my coaches tell me to do.”
Jones said, “I thought he handled it well. He handled the spotlight well.”
Coleman, a senior, had one rush for seven yards and missed all of his four pass attempts.
The victory improved the Wolves to 11-1.
“This is the first time in our school history to make the third round. I think it is a great milestone,” said Arrambide.
Program pride was apparent for Collierville.
“I am really proud of this football team. We showed what kind of team we are in these two playoff games. We are not a 3-7 team. We are one of the best teams in the state. It was rough going through the forfeits and losing games that we should have won. A lot of guys are leaving but we have a lot of guys coming back. It’s going to hurt having them go. Getting this playoff experience, having the pride and energy that we played with and never giving up is going to be big coming into next season,” said Connors, a junior, who completed 15-of-41 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns.
The Dragons, who defeated Wilson Central 35-21 in the first round of the playoffs, finished 4-8 but 6-6 on the field. Two season-opening victories were forfeited.
“That is a great group of kids over there at Collierville,” said Jones. “They do things right both on and off the field. Those kids fought their hearts out from the start of the game to the end of it. They lost two close games, against Arlington and Houston. You flip those around and you take away the two forfeits, they would have a much different record.”
The Dragons were without running back Cole Johnson, who injured his shoulder against WIlson Central. Johnson scored 66 points this season, second behind kicker Dylan Scott, who finished with 83 points. Johnson had an interception, scoring a touchdown in the first round.
“We have got a good game plan,” said O’Neill before the game with Cordova. “They are solid. They are well coached.”
Lacy, who rushed for 27 yards on 10 carries, said, “It’s tough to try to beat a team twice.”
Cordova took a 7-0 lead with 26 seconds left in the first quarter. The 38-yard, five-play drive began at the Collierville 38 after Johnson returned a punt 17 yards. Isaiah Stinson ran 15 yards to the 1. Jeremy Banks, Cordova’s leading rusher with 55 yards on 12 carries, scored his first of two touchdowns, a 1-yard run. Sarabia kicked his first of four PATs.
It took a two-play drive for Collierville to tie the game. Connors threw a 23-yard pass to Alex Smith before hitting Marcus Bersoza for a 30-yard touchdown with 4:46 left in the second quarter. Scott made it 7-7.
The score came after Collierville had driven to the Cordova 1-yard line. The Dragons got there with an 11-yard pass from Connors to Smith, a 23-yard pass from Connors that went from the Cordova 40 to the 17-yard line. Facing fourth-and-one, McCay ran to the 4 for a first down.
Connors was then tackled by Cordova’s Jeremiah Fordham for a 2-yard loss and Jevon Connor for a 5-yard loss. McCay then ran 10 yards to the Cordova 1 but on fourth down, he was stopped for a two-yard loss. There was 7:57 left in the second quarter.
Cordova went ahead 14-7 on a failed Dragon reverse play with 3:24 left in the second. With the fumble recovery, Cordova was on the Collierville 14-yard line. Reynolds had had two tackles and Tyler Garvey one before Banks scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 2:19 left.
The Dragons’ dramatic touchdown pass caught by McCay to Connors tied the game at 14 at halftime.
With 7:45 left in the third quarter, Scott had a 56-yard punt. Later the Dragons took a 21-14 lead on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Connors to Smith.
A 14-yard pass from Connors to Justin Stonework got to the 10-yard line.
Johnson’s touchdown tied the game at 21 with 11:32 left.
Three minutes later, Cordova was on the Collierville 39-yard line facing fourth-and-four with 8:12 left. Garvey was flagged for a pass interference. From the 24, the Wolves got a first down by Lacy and then Arrambide threw a 16-yard pass to Hewitt for the game-winning touchdown with 6:35 left.
“I had a pass interference call that helped convert them on fourth down. If we had stopped them, it would have prevented them from scoring that touchdown,” said Garvey, who finished with a game-high nine tackles.
The Dragons staged a comeback. After Sarabia missed a 31-yard field goal, Collierville was on its 20-yard line. Connors threw a 35-yard pass to Auggie Burke.
Connors then ran 26 yards to Cordova 12-yard line. Connors threw four incomplete passes. Hewitt broke up the last one intended for Bersoza.
“Right up until the end I though we had it. I missed a throw at the end. It’s going to be rough to deal with it,” said Connors, who finished the season passing for 2,201 yards.
“We played to our full potential tonight, we just fell short in the last quarter,” said Garvey.
Hassell was in tears after the game as were most Collierville players.
“It’s pretty tough,” he said. “I don’t get to play football any more in high school.”
Smith, who led receivers with 86 yards on 12 carries including his longest of 51 yards, said, “We played them in the regular season. They were definitely faster, quicker and stronger. We had our chance. We just didn’t capitalize on it.”
He said the turning point came when Cordova recovered the fumble deep and would score.
O’Neill said that the turning point was after the Dragons had held the Wolves on third down and long and then when Arrambide completed the 55-yard touchdown pass to Johnson in the fourth quarter.
“We stop them there we get the momentum back. We had a breakdown in coverage. I called a cover two-man and had two guys on the man and they guy went up and made a play. What do you do?” said O’Neill.
McCay was confident that the Dragons would win and “be in Nashville next week. I was pretty confident after the half. We got the ball. We were playing good football. We got the big play before half. Normally that happens to us but we were the ones who got the big play and that was good.”
Connors said that getting in the red zone and not scoring hurt. “A lot falls on me,” he said. “That was a big momentum swing.”
Praising his receivers, Connors said, “I thought they made a lot of plays. I give them credit for that. Marcus had a nice play coming back for the ball (that resulted in a TD), Peyton had a nice run and Alex Smith had a great route on the goal line.”
McCay said that Connors stood out.
“He is going to put a lot on himself but at the end of the day, it’s a team sport. He was getting hit all night. It’s tough to throw when you have got two or three guys on you. I couldn’t do his job.”
Collierville had 243 yards total offense. Cordova’s defense held the Dragons to minus-17 yards rushing. Connors suffered 57 yards in lost yardage.
“They were putting a lot of pressure on him,” said O’Neill. “They are so big up front and athletic. I wish we could have had more success offensively in the second half because our defense was out there a lot battling. They got in the fourth quarter and that was our goal.”
Lacy said of the Cordova defense, “The defense gave us stops when we needed them to and we capitalized when we need to in the second half. Every one of our teammates are accountable. Being more physical than them I knew if I was more physical, I would have the advantage because of my size and speed.”
Bohanna led Cordova defense with seven tackles, 22 yards lost and a 13-yard sack. Tracy Williams had two tackles for eight yards loss and a sack of seven yards. Jason Connor (sack of five yards), Jaqauren Erving (sack of three), Torrance ( sack of six yards), Dezquandrick Jackson and Oma Ricks each had sacks of three yards also sparked the defense.
Bohanna, who is 6-4, 313, said, “I try to find tendencies. I try to take it as much as I can.”
Collierville was led by Smith with six tackles, Bailey Howell’s eight, Ryan Stanfill’s seven, Justin Ragin’s seven and four each by Reynolds, Carson Rees.
Bersoza finished with 49 yards receiving, Burke 35, Grandison 15 and McCay 54. Scott averaged 37.4 yards on seven punts.
Johnson finished with 135 yards receiving for Cordova while Hewitt had 25, Stinson 43 and Tyler Jordan 23. Sarabia kicked six punts, averaging 26.83 yards per kick.
Jones said that the family atmosphere has helped the Wolves achieve.
“We are a band of brothers. When one member is down, we pick each other up.”
Garvey said the same about the Dragons.
“We are a family on and off the field. It’s bittersweet. I hate to end my high school career at this point but I have got to continue and keep going.”
McCay said, “These guys never quit. Playing football as long as we have been playing, you learn to love the guys next to you and play for the guys next to you.
This season we have had to overcome a lot of adversity.”
Lacy is moving on. He is thinking about Ravenwood.
“I feel good. I think it is going to be a great challenge for us.”