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Hornets make last stand, upset Bulldogs

James Bryant could have given up as easily as any other player on the John Essex High School football team.

He could have walked onto the Sweet Water High School field Friday night knowing his Hornets didn’t have a chance in the world to make the playoffs. He could have looked at the other sideline and seen a Bulldog team that had lost just once all season.

But if Bryant, who rushed for 267 yards and three touchdowns, would have carried that attitude into Nolan Atkins Stadium, it wouldn’t have reflected the hand-drawn logo on the T-shirt he wore under his No. 2 jersey.

That chip was never more evident than in the last minute of Friday’s game. Sweet Water, trailing 30-25 with four minutes in the game, began a desperation drive from their own 23 yard line with only one timeout remaining. Methodically, the Bulldogs picked up first downs while managing the clock with precision.

With 52 seconds left, Sweet Water running back Dominic Holt broke through the John Essex defensive front and scampered from the Hornets’ 21-yard line all the way to the four. A go-ahead touchdown looked all but imminent.

On first down, Sweet Water grounded the football to stop the clock. On second down, running back Patrick Gamble bobbled a pitch and fell on the ball without gaining a yard. On third down, a Deon Williams pass to Travion Lockett sailed one yard out of bounds, setting up one final deciding play.

On the final play, Goode made that adjustment by changing up his defensive line and putting his strongest linemen on the left side of the ball.

On fourth-and-goal from the four with 11 seconds left in the game, Sweet Water called a pass to the right corner of the endzone &045; or the left side of the John Essex defense.

Worked out, it did. John Essex knocked down the Williams pass and the few fans scattered about the visiting side’s bleachers erupted loud enough to be heard back in Jefferson.

In many ways, the Hornets’ win exemplified much of the season. They were backed up against their own goal line and they somehow avoided defeat. They were called for 130 yards in penalties &045; compared to 40 yard in penalties for Sweet Water &045; and they overcame what they considered questionable calls all night, much like another call two weeks ago against the Hornets.

But the Hornets almost didn’t get it.

After Sweet Water threw an interception on its first possession of the game, John Essex took the ball from its own 20 yard line and scored when Bryant rushed in from seven yards out.

Sweet Water answered quickly, scoring on a 29-yard pass from Williams to Holt.

The teams traded touchdowns again, but the Hornets converted on a two-point conversion that gave them a 14-12 edge with 7:02 left in the first half.

John Essex scored one more time before the half when Frankie Glass called his own number and rushed in from the two-yard-line. Again, the two-point conversion was successful, giving the Hornets a 22-12 lead.

The Bulldogs answered again, scoring on a 31-yard run by Holt with 1:23 left in the half.

The Hornets struck first in the second half, though it didn’t come until the 8-minute mark in the fourth quarter when Bryant scored on a 27-yard run. The touchdown gave John Essex a 30-12 lead and what seemed to be a sure win.

On the next kick-off, Sweet Water’s Travion Lockett fielded the ball at his own 12 yard line, right before it went out of bounds, cut across mid field and then hit the sideline without being touched. His 88-yard kick return and an extra point put the Bulldogs right back in the game.

After a defensive stand that included two penalties against John Essex, Sweet Water got the ball back with 4:14 left but were unable to score on their final possession.