October 23, 2009 7:34:00 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
MABEN -- You gotta believe.
The tears on Dwight Quinn''s face Thursday night showed just how much he and his West Oktibbeha High School football teammates believe.
Trailing by 18 points early in the third quarter, the Timberwolves used a punt return for a touchdown by Quinn to change the momentum.
From there, West Oktibbeha dominated the rest of the second half and carried that energy into the first overtime.
A 1-yard touchdown run by Quinn and a two-point conversion pass from quarterback Von Smith to Quinn completed the rally and helped West Oktibbeha earn a 26-24 victory at H.L. Hamberlin Field.
The victory helps West Oktibbeha (5-4, 5-2 Class 1A, Region 3, District 4) improve its chances of earning a spot in the top four in the district and securing a playoff berth and damages the postseason hopes of East Oktibbeha (4-5, 3-4) with two games remaining.
"We believed." Lowrey said. "We trusted in God. It is miraculous. For our boys, it is the biggest thing that has happened to them all year. It just gives them another reason to believe in Jesus Christ."
East Oktibbeha''s Lexie Edwards scored on a 10-yard run on the first play of overtime. The Titans'' conversion run failed.
West Oktibbeha took three plays to score on Quinn''s 1-yard run. It then set up a conversion pass that Smith threw behind Quinn, but his arms were long enough to reach back and his hands were strong enough to hang on.
"I prayed the whole time I went to the line and stood up," Quinn said. "God gave me the ability to make that catch. When I looked up, it was already behind me. The ball hit my hip and it fell into my (bare) hands. I can''t explain it."
Lowrey said he received a phone call at halftime from his father. He said his father had received a call from his wife''s mother and wanted to pass on a message: "Signs and wonders follow those who believe in God." The verse comes from Mark 16: 17-18 in which the passage reads "and these signs will follow those who believe in my name they will cast out demons they will speak in other tongues and... will heal the sick."
Lowrey passed on that message to his players. He said the team prayed and trusted God and delivered an improbable result.
The impact didn''t come immediately.
East Oktibbeha stopped Tiberious Lampkin in the end zone for a safety to increase its lead to 18-0 with 10 minutes, 6 seconds to play in the third quarter. But the Titans fumbled on the ensuing possession to give the Timberwolves the ball at their 13-yard line. Aided by a pass interference penalty on first-and-long, Smith completed a 10-yard pass to Poe to give the Timberwolves first-and-goal. Two plays later, Smith hit Quinn from 6 yards to help make it 18-6 with 6:39 left in the quarter.
Quinn provided the next spark with a 45-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Lowrey said he debated whether to return the punt or to block the punt. He said he asked one of his assistant coaches to confirm his thinking and he said, "Let''s block." The decision provided the spark as Quadaris Thompson delivered a crunching block to give Quinn the time and space to run past and around other would-be tacklers.
Quinn encouraged Lowrey to set up a return and told him and his teammates "it all lies in the hands of God." He then went out and showed how much he believes.
"If you believe, God will give it to you, so coach took the chance on me and I prayed the whole time," Quinn said. "When I got the ball, I guess God worked with me because He gave me the ability to take it home."
The Timberwolves'' ability to throw the ball also fueled the rally. Smith completed 10 passes in a row for 129 yards, His biggest gains were a 24-yarder to Quinn and a 25- and a 28-yarder to Aaron Brownlee.
The first pass to Brownlee helped set up a 2-yard run by Thompson that tied the game at 18. The conversion pass with 8:24 to go failed.
West Oktibbeha threw the ball only once in the first half and opted to go with a newly installed running attack that netted 3 yards on 12 carries.
"It did OK at times, but it takes a lot of timing to run it," Lowrey said. "We were negative everything at the beginning. My plan was to play defense because our defense is lights out and our offense has struggled every game. We had to do something. We tested the waters to see if we could throw and it went big for us."
The teams traded possessions before East Oktibbeha got the ball back with 2:31 left in regulation. The Titans moved from their 46 to the Timberwolves'' 25 with a little more than one minute remaining, but Poe stripped Edwards after a 5-yard gain.
West Oktibbeha used two passes and a penalty to move to the Titans'' 23 with four seconds to go, but Arthur Gillespie intercepted a pass by Smith.
A Chris Hunter 45-yard run on a fake punt and a conversion pass from Hunter gave the Titans an 8-0 lead in the first quarter.
Marlon Fair''s 5-yard run with 1:12 left before halftime helped push the margin to 16-0 at halftime.
The Timberwolves used run blitzes in the second half to slow down the Titans'' misdirection attack. The strategy allowed the Timberwolves to hold the Titans, who ran 20 running plays in the second half, to eight plays of zero or negative yards.
"They confused my (offensive) line," East Oktibbeha coach Anthony King said. "We couldn''t pick up too many of them, but we still moved the ball. We had two crucial turnovers, and the punt return really hurt us. But they played hard. I think they wanted it more than our guys did. My guys seemed like we pretty much shut it down at halftime."
The victory was the third in a row in the series for the Timberwolves, who have won their most games in a season since the 2006 campaign. That season also was the last time West Oktibbeha advanced to the Class 1A playoffs (a 42-6 loss to Ray Brooks).
King credited the Timberwolves for their second-half effort.
"I think in the second half my guys started celebrating and three or four turnovers cost us," King said. "My offensive line didn''t do a good job, so I have to give West credit. They came out and played physical for four quarters."
Lowrey praised his players for raising their level of intensity after a sluggish first half. He said the victory showed what is possible if a team believes.
Quinn, who was still emotional 20 minutes after the game, echoed Lowrey''s feelings.
"In the first half, guys were giving up in their faith in God," Quinn said. "They started getting frustrated like God wasn''t there. We tell the team every day in practice that as long as you have faith in God it doesn''t matter how much time there is on the clock, God will get you through. The team believes in God and it sees the miracles he can do."
Lowrey said he had chills after the victory because it showed how much his players put their faith in God and let Him energize them.
Poe looked the most fortified. He lowered his shoulder and steamrolled a defender on a run inside the Titans'' 20. He also was all over the field on defense, swarming to the football and creating havoc to fuel to comeback.
"All you have to do is to have faith," Poe said. "If you believe, you can do what you want to do. God just blessed us with this win. He is just unbelievable."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.