November 24, 2013 12:44:35 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
HAMILTON -- Somewhere very early in the coaching handbook is a phrase that says, "Never take points off the scoreboard."
It's meant to serve as a warning against the dangers of falling prey to over-exuberance and the lure of a bigger windfall on the scoreboard.
If more coaches had kickers like Blake Hudson, that rule likely would have to be amended.
Buoyed by the belief of his coach, Hudson kicked three field goals -- two of which counted -- including a 20-yarder from the right hash with 2 minutes, 54 seconds remaining to lift the St. Aloysius football team to a 13-12 victory against Hamilton in the second round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 1A North State playoffs at Jimmy Moore Field.
"Who takes points off the board?" St. Aloysius coach Bobby Smithhart said. "It's a cardinal sin, but that is a good football team. If they had another minute and a half, I don't know if we could have held on. That kid has been my kicker for four years. He made me look good."
St. Aloysius (9-4) will play host to Smithville, which defeated Shelby Broad Street 14-0, next week for the North State title and a chance to represent the North in the state title game at 11 a.m. Friday, Dec. 6, at Veterans Stadium in Jackson.
Hamilton, which last week won its first playoff game in 27 years, finishes 9-4.
Smithhart must have realized he was tempting the football gods late in the fourth quarter. A punt return from near midfield to the Hamilton 22-yard line set up St. Aloysius for the go-ahead score. The Flashes gained 3 yards on first down and then caught a break when quarterback Connor Smith recovered his fumble for no gain. A loss of 1 yard on third down set the stage for a 37-yard field goal that Hudson made with plenty of leg.
That's when Smithhart was faced with his decision.
A roughing the kicker penalty gave Smithhart the option of taking the points off the scoreboard and trying to score a touchdown that would give his team a bigger margin. With 4:15 to go in the game, it was an enticing proposition considering Hamilton had shown a quick strike-capability earlier in the game and a touchdown would force Hamilton to have to score another touchdown to win the game.
"I sat there about five minutes and the ref was like, 'You have to do something,' " Smithhart said. "That was crazy. They have a really good ballteam. I am just proud of my kids. I know coach (Ray) Weeks is proud of his. He has a really good ballclub."
While Smithhart wrestled with his decision, Hudson stood by with the confidence he would deliver. Last week, the senior kicker provided the winning margin in overtime to help St. Aloysius upset Region 1 champion Coffeeville 24-21. After kicking a 35-yard field goal earlier in the fourth quarter and getting a little under but making sold contact on the 37-yarder, Hudson knew he could deliver if he was needed again.
"It just keeps building up and building up, and the more you make the more confident you're going to be," Hudson said. "No matter what happens out there, whether it is a good kick or a bad kick, he never holds it over me and I always get more chances, and I always come through when I need to."
St. Aloysius resumed its drive at the Hamilton 10 and lost 3 yards on the first two plays. A 9-yard gain by Douglas Busari on third down set Hudson up for a 20-yard chip shot with a little less than three minutes remaining. The only rub was that the kick was on the far right hash, a tricky angle for a right-footed kicker.
"I had never had one that far over. That was kind of weird," Hudson said. "I had to tell Matt Foley, the holder, to angle him so we could get it through."
The angle didn't faze Hudson, who hit the kick "pretty solid" to give the Flashes their first -- or second -- lead of the game.
"That kind of surprised me a little bit that he took the points off the board, but I knew what he was trying to do," Weeks said. "I knew he was trying to run more clock. I thought maybe we can get a stop or a block. ... I knew they were going to run it up the middle and try to run clock."
But Hamilton had confidence it had plenty of time left to answer the score. After seeing St. Aloysius kick the ball short and away from returners Quinshay and Keshon Heard, Weeks moved Keshon Heard up and Aaron Fontenot to give the Lions a bigger speed option. The move worked as Heard fielded the kick from the 17-yard line and waited for an opening. The play developed slowly, but the sophomore running back, who is one of the state's top sprinters, worked himself across the field and found a lane on the left down the Hamilton sideline. As he crossed midfield, a charge went through the Hamilton crowd, which sensed magic was about to happen.
"He made a great return," Weeks said. "We had great blocking, and I thought it was set up there for a while. Coming down that sideline, I thought he was gone, He made a great run and gave us a chance That is all we can ask for."
Heard's 56-yard return set Hamilton up at the St. Aloysius 27 with 2:35 to go. A 7-yard gain by Pallas Fair on second down gave Hamilton a third-and-2 from the Flashes' 19. St. Aloysius called timeout before the play and then stopped Fair for a 1-yard loss on third down. Weeks opted to let the clock count down and use his final timeout with 30 seconds to go to give Maximilion Garcette a shot at a 37-yard field goal. Samuel Peloquin handled the snap and got the hold down in plenty of time. Garcette made solid contact and had plenty of distance on the kick, but it went wide left.
After the game, Weeks said an official told him the kick might have been touched or have gone off a helmet because he thought it was on line to give his team the lead. As it turned out, the attempt proved to be the next-to-last play of the season for a Hamilton team that the week before made history in beating Mound Bayou JFK. The victory was the first in the playoffs for the program since 1986. It gave the Lions hope that they could work their way through the rest of the North State bracket at home and play for a state title.
Unfortunately, last week's elation evaporated into disappointment of falling tantalizingly close to another playoff victory.
"They don't have anything to hang their head about," Weeks said of a senior class that won 22 games in the past three seasons. "They played a great football game tonight and had a great football season."
For St. Aloysius, a great football season lived to write another chapter thanks to an energized second-half effort and the strong leg of a kicker who is making game-winning kicks look easy.
"I trust him anywhere from 45 yards in from any angle," Smithhart said. "He means that much to us."
Said Hudson, "We get roughed and we have the choice to take the points or the first down. With the first down, we could always have a chance to score and win. If we didn't, I would get another chance at it. Luckily it went through the second time."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.