November 1, 2009 12:39:00 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
Championship programs are made of this.
The New Hope High School football team still has work to do before it earns a title, but it showed Saturday night it just might have the mettle to be a state contender.
Terrance Dentry scored on a 1-yard plunge on fourth down in overtime and the Trojans'' defense swarmed Brandon Dennis on the final play to seal a 35-27 victory at Trojan Field.
The victory helped New Hope (8-1, 5-1 Class 5A, Region 1 District 2) wrap up the No. 2 seed in the district and earn a home playoff game in the first round against Callaway, which is coached by former Columbus High coach Daryl Jones.
"This is the kind of game when your backs get against the wall and the other team has all of the momentum and they have played their guts out and they have seemed to have taken the game from you and your team steps up and makes a series of plays like we made, that is the kind of character we''re trying to instill in these guys," New Hope coach Michael Bradley said. "They have obviously been good students. They played with a lot of character at the end of the game when a lot of teams would have just said, ''We''re beat.'' they hung in there and made it happen. I couldn''t be happier for them."
New Hope regrouped from Tanner Ryals'' missed 38-yard field goal that plunked off the right upright with 18 seconds left in regulation.
The Trojans took the ball first from the Tigers'' 10-yard line in overtime. Dentry (24 carries, 138 yards) rushed for 9 yards on the first two downs, but quarterback Zak Thrasher gained only a half-yard on third down to set up fourth down.
Thrasher collided with Dentry as he turned to hand the ball off, but the offensive line held and denied penetration, which allowed Dentry to get to the line and sneak in for the go-ahead score.
Hernando gained 6 yards on its first play, but it gained no yards on second down, and threw an incompletion on third down.
New Hope''s defense then rose to the challenge.
Hernando''s Eli Canton, who also plays running back, lined up in the Wildcat formation, took the snap and moved to his right. Dennis was with him in the option formation, and when Canton pitched the ball, the Trojans, led by Frank Richardson Jr., and Curtis Shirley, swarmed Dennis near the sideline to set off the celebration.
"We believed," New Hope senior defensive lineman Seth Stillman said. "That is something that has really come into this program. That is a big part of it. You have to believe. Four years ago, we never would have done it, but this is a new New Hope Trojan team. We believe now."
Stillman said the Trojans got a little too confident after Dentry scored on a 69-yard run and Thrasher added a 3-yard score in the fourth quarter to make it 14-0.
Richardson admitted the Trojans got down after Hernando snatched the momentum away in the fourth quarter.
But he and Thrasher did something about it.
Already in the books with a 54-yard touchdown catch from Thrasher, Richardson outraced the defense for a 72-yard score with 3 minutes, 35 seconds left that helped tie the game at 28.
"Zak read the defense and knew what to do in that situation," Richardson said. "He put the ball where it needed to be. I realized (there was nobody in front of him) and once I caught it I was thinking, "I''ve got to score, I''ve got to score.'' "
Richardson said everybody did their job on the final option pitch to seal the victory.
"We started saying, ''This is the seniors last home game'' and we knew we had to do it for them," Richardson said.
Said Stillman, "He came to the left side and I broke down and I knew I didn''t have to worry about the outside because the Trojans'' defense flows to the ball every time."
The game had a series of momentum swings as Hernando (7-3, 4-2) rallied from a 21-7 deficit in the fourth quarter. The Tigers blocked a punt and went on to score 21 points in 6:33, as Canton caught a 48-yard touchdown pass from Martin Walsh, Kedric Merriweather scored on a 45-yard punt return, and Dennis scored on a 4-yard run.
But Hernando imagined what could have been after a first half in which it turned the ball over three times and committed three penalties that went for first downs on New Hope''s 16-play scoring drive that made it 14-0.
"We came out a little flat and didn''t play like I think we''re capable of," Hernando coach Anthony Jenkins said. "I think we played a little better in the second half. ... I think we played a little harder in the second half and got back in the ballgame and had a chance to win it."
Bradley knew from watching film that Canton was going to run the ball or try to make an option read out of the Wildcat. He said his defense did a great job of doing what it was taught to help the seniors with their final regular-season home game.
"Our defensive coaches did a great job of scouting that out and we were able to make some plays," Bradley said. "We had been practicing for that."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.