Instead a well-played, hard-fought contest turned into a second consecutive heartbreak for the Comets, with some fans questioning their first-year head coach’s decision making.
The Comets out-gained Union City 465 yards to 269, Trevor Kelley busted out for 177 yards rushing and junior QB Spencer Nielsen played the best game of his young career, but at the end of the night the scoreboard read: Jonesville 27, Union City 29.
It was close to being different though.
After burning its final timeout, Jonesville had the ball on Union City’s 14-yard line with 43.1 seconds to put points on the board.
In the heat of desperation the Chargers’ defensive ends found a way to get through the line, sacking Nielsen twice, as the seconds continued to fly off the clock and coaches started yelling things at the top of their lungs.
Backed up to around the 35-yard line the Comets had time for one final play if they could just snap the ball — and they did, but more than half the players on the field froze, as the air-horn triggered a sense that the game was over, when in fact the referees had never blown the final whistle.
After several seconds of dumbfounded shock Nielsen had a revelation and took off down the left sideline, where he had only two or three Union City players to beat on his way to the end zone.
“At first I was screaming ‘Throw the ball’, Logan Jenkins was in front of us, and he wasn’t going,” Jonesville head coach Joshua Lindeman said. “Then, all of our linemen went down field and Spencer was looking to throw and I was like ‘You have to run it’, because if he had thrown it would’ve been (an illegal man downfield) penalty on us, end of game.”
Around the 20-yard Nielsen veered back in toward the middle of the field and was tackled though and it appeared the game had ended at the 14-yard line with zeroes on the clock.
Union City was called for a penalty for having an illegal man on the field during the final play, meaning half the distance to the goal and a final un-timed play for the Comets.
Lindeman opted to keep his offense on the field and he ran a slants package, hoping Union City would jump on their tight ends and leave the Comets receivers with some real estate. Sufficient space never opened up though and Nielsen forced a throw to the end-zone which was intercepted and nearly taken all the way back for a Chargers touchdown.
Almost immediately after the final play a contingent of Jonesville fans were chanting ” We want a field goal!” in a response to Lindeman’s decision, but the Comets head coach said he wouldn’t change a thing.
“We’re not consistent from the left hash, our kicker (Jay Bearden) is a great right-hash player. If we had another timeout, we would’ve ran to the right hash, called a timeout, but we didn’t,” he said. “We’ve kicked on the left hash the last few weeks leading up to this, we just haven’t got it consistently like that and I’m never going to put a kid in a situation like that — if he misses it that game becomes all about the field goal, as opposed to the 47-and-a-half minutes before that.”
The unmatchable drama of the drive down the field and near victory in the final 3:23 are what spectators will remember most, but there were plenty of other highlights in the consequential Big Eight battle.
After Union City’s Chris Maye broke outside and upfield for a 93-yard touchdown on his team’s second offensive play from scrimmage, the Comets did a fine job of shutting down the Chargers option attack and their own offense went to work.
John Sigler used a fierce stiff arm to break off a 40-yard run and he later scored on a two-yard run, as the Comets made it 7-6 when Bearden missed the extra point.
On the next possession it was Kelley’s turn to make defenders miss, as he rumbled for a few tough yards off the line of scrimmage and somehow broke free for a 65-yard run down to the Union City 15-yard line. Several plays later Sigler added a four-yard TD run and a conversion pass from Nielsen to Brandon Jenkins made it 14-7.
Sigler tallied 89 yards on 16 carries while fighting cramps all night long and Dominic Mulkey added 26 yards rushing as the Comets tallied 328 rushing yards as a team.
“Our running game did great tonight, much different than last week,” Lindeman said. “People stepped up, our backs hit the holes, we ran hard, we didn’t put the ball on the turf as much and we faked well.”
After the Jonesville defense stood tall, forcing two Charger turnover on downs, Nielsen and tight end Evan Lobdell hooked up on a highlight reel touchdown pass on the final play of the first half.
Lobdell’s defender stayed with him for all 29 yards of his route toward the endzone but he simply outmuscled the smaller Austin Herman and basically went up and over him to haul in a momentum-building touchdown pass.
Nielsen, who completed just one pass in his first career start, ended the night 7-for-13 for 137 yards and two scores and he proved he has the ability to throw on the run and get back up following big hits.
“He showed a lot of resiliency because they hit him, they came after him and he kept getting up,” Lindeman said.
The second half turned out to be a little less of the Comets ground game and plenty more of Maye for the Chargers.
Maye scored on a 5-yard run to pull his team within 21-15 and at the 4:59 marker of the third quarter he broke several tackles and used a nifty spin to will his way into the endzone from 21 yards out.
After Jonesville took a 27-22 lead on a 25-yard TD pass to Sigler in the flats Maye found the endzone yet again, from two yards out with 3:28 left.
His final stats were 16 carries for 150 yards on the night for a Chargers squad that did not complete a single pass Thursday.
For Jonesville it was the kind of loss that had players close to tears and the coaching staff at a loss for words, but Lindeman promised that things are going as planned. In his mind, the boys fought valiantly and every great program goes through growing pains before they become dominate.
“What a lot of people don’t see is great programs that are great programs now were going through what we’re going through five, six, seven years ago. We lost a close game last week, we lost a close game this week, and as much as you want to say a negative, we’re going to learn more from it than just negatives. These kids will be better having been through these battles,” he said. “The people that know football and know how programs are built know we are making progress. There’s not much I can say to some people, you just have to see the battle that went on for 48 minutes and respect that.”