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Leake Central edges Caledonia

 

By Don Rowe, Special to the Dispatch

 

CALEDONIA -- Caledonia High School kicker Josh Kugel is probably too young to realize it, but he has a lot in common with Gerry Thomas and Dan Mowrey. 

 

A generation ago, Thomas and Mowrey, kickers for coach Bobby Bowden's Florida State University Seminoles, etched their names in the annals of college football lore as both missed late field goals in back-to-back losses to in-state rival the University of Miami in what became known as the "wide right" games. 

 

Fast forward 20 years or so, and Kugel suffered the same fate as his FSU counterparts did in 1991 and '92, only he missed three kicks wide right -- one extra point and two field goals -- in the final two and a half minutes of a 28-27 Homecoming loss to Leake Central in a Class 4A, Region 4 game. 

 

To Kugel's credit, he had five kickoffs for touchbacks, a 51-yard fourth-quarter punt, two field goals in the first half, and a point-after kick. He also drilled an apparent game-winning 28-yarder with 13.7 seconds left, only to have the kick nullified by an offside penalty on the Gators. 

 

"Talk about jumping offside at the right time. Was that not a game-changer?" Caledonia coach Ricky Kendrick said. "I hate it turned out like it did because we missed out on so many scoring opportunities earlier in the game but still had a big lead and should have maintained it. 

 

"We just didn't get things done in the second half and it should never have come down to having to kick a field goal to win it there at the end. But given the chance to do things differently, I wouldn't hesitate to call on Josh again because I have all the faith in the world in his kicking abilities." 

 

Kugel, who had 25 kickoffs for touchbacks the first six games to tie for 11th in the nation, sandwiched an early 32-yard field goal and a 28-yarder a minute before halftime around a perfectly executed pass-run play from quarterback Ben Marchbanks to Lucas Eads to finish an eight-play, 97-yard drive that gave the Confederates a 14-0 halftime lead. 

 

After Marchbanks was injured on the second play of the third quarter, Jamari Green capped a four-play, 63-yard march with a 35-yard scamper on Leake Central's opening possession of the second half. Bernardo Brita added the point after to cut the Confederates' lead to 14-7). 

 

Undaunted, Caledonia responded with a 12-play 80-yard march behind backup quarterback Joshua Betts, who had a key 18-yard keeper to keep the drive alive, and running back Cole Bruce, who had 51 yards rushing on nine carries. Jarius Chatman's 3-yard burst off right tackle and Kugel's kick made it a 21-7 with 3 minutes, 17 seconds left in the third quarter. 

 

A three-and-out on the Gators' next possession gave Caledonia the ball near midfield, but a Betts' first-down fumble was returned 50 yards by linebacker Rod Sanders. Brita's PAT kick drew the Gators to within 21-14 with 1:30 left in the third. 

 

After an exchange of punts, the first-down fumble woes hit Caledonia again, as Randy Randle coughed up the ball at his 45. Leake Central capitalized with a 13-yard touchdown run by Lavonta Luckett seven plays later. Brita's kick after tied it at 21-21 with 6:55 left to play. 

 

Kugel's 51-yard punt a minute later pinned the Gators at their 18, but Leake drove 82 yards in less than three minutes to take its first lead, 28-21, on a 6-yard TD run by Luckett and Brita's kick. 

 

Leake's jubilation was short-lived, however, as Marchbanks hooked up with Quavis Betts on a 70-yard touchdown strike 22 seconds later to cut it to a one-point deficit. Kugel's missed PAT try left Caledonia a point short with 2:38 left, but the Confederates' Nathan Brauer recovered the ensuing onsides kick at the Leake Central 47 to set up the wild finish. 

 

Marchbanks connected with Randle on a 17-yard pickup and, after an illegal procedure penalty, Randle's 6-yard run put Caledonia in position for the game-winning field goal with 35.2 seconds left. 

 

Kugel's 40-yard try from the 23 was wide right, but Leake was penalized for roughing the kicker to give Caledonia a first at the 11. Two plays later, Marchbanks spiked the ball to stop the clock with 13.7 seconds left. 

 

Kugel then came through with a 28-yarder for what appeared to be the game-winner, but Leake Central had jumped offside prior to the snap to force a second try. This next one from the 6 sailed wide right. 

 

"We did a million things wrong tonight, but we did two things right, we never gave up and we didn't quit," Leake Central coach John Sallis said. "I've got some great kids to work with, great kids who have bought into what we do here, great kids who love each other, great kids who never give up. I can say 'great kids' a million times and it would never be enough."

 

 

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