Both sides knew exactly what was at stake Friday night.
A week 5 matchup between Class AA contenders had major playoff seeding on the line.
So, it was no surprise that the game came down to missed two-point conversion.
The Bennett Tigers came away with a victory after a fourth quarter two-point conversion was overturned, beating the Clarence Red Devils, 14-13.
After getting their second straight score, Clarence decided to go with the hot hand rather than kicking an extra point to tie the game. They gave the ball once again to Jon Stevens but he fell just short with six minutes left in the game.
The original call on the field was that Stevens got in, but after a five-minute discussion the officials overturned their call saying his knee was down before the ball crossed the plane.
Still, it was the tight game that both sides were expecting.
Bennett sophomore running back Justin Campbell was proud of the resilience his team had.
“We knew it was going to be a dogfight,” Campbell said. “We stepped up and when Clarence came back we still stood up and won the game.”
The two teams traded the punts until Bennett got the ball in Red Devil territory late in the first quarter. Semaj Clemons had strong run taking the ball 34 yards down to the 13 yard line. After a false start penalty, Campbell made a quick cutback and an 18-yard touchdown to give the Tigers the lead.
Even though he’s only a sophomore, Campbell is already a leader for Bennett according to head coach Steve McDuffie. The running back is also the nephew of the great Malik Campbell.
“He’s a pillar of this team. He had a couple runs that were unbelievable,” McDuffie said. “If he continues to work he could be a Division-I player, but he’s even a better person off the field.”
Later in the second quarter, Bennett wide out Jordan Fayson caught a dump pass and turned it into 20 yards to bring his team to the Red Devil 29-yard line. The Tigers got the ball inside the 10-yard line but the Clarence defense stood up and made the stop on 4th and 2.
On the ensuing drive, the Bennett defensive line got to Clarence quarterback Jack Putney forcing a fumble that was recovered in the end zone by Nukahri Funderburk. Bennett scored on the two-point try to take the 14-0 with less than a minute to go in the half.
In the second half, Stevens put the Red Devils on his back. He helped Clarence move the ball down the field in the third quarter before scoring on a 3-yard run to cut the Tiger lead to 14-7.
Red Devil defensive back Noah Corry ended a promising Bennett drive with interception on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Clarence steadily drove the ball down the field. Early in the drive, Jacob Reger picked up four yards on run and 4th and 2 in his own end. A few plays later, Putney found Stevens on third down and long for 30 yards. Stevens converted on another 4th down run and then brought the ball inside the 10 yard-line.
The Red Devils went back to the senior this time he took it five yards for the touchdown.
Stevens was a work house for Clarence Friday night. The senior also had a pick early in the first quarter.
“We asked him to do a lot tonight,” Clarence head coach Paul Burgio said. “He runs hard on every play. On defense, we ask him to run around covering people and to blitz from that safety position. He’s a hard nosed kid and I couldn’t be any prouder of him.”
Bennett had the lead and all the momentum after the overturned call but their offense could not put the game away, luckily their defense had their back.
Stevens again carried Clarence down the field converting 4th downs and but their luck ran out as the Tiger defense came up with a stop on 4th and short in their own territory.
On the ensuing drive, Bennett moved backwards. After a bad punt, Clarence got another chance with great field position starting at midfield with 1:42 left.
The Red Devils were moving the ball again until finally Jakari Nettles came up with an interception to seal it for Bennett.
The overturned call was deflating for Clarence.
“That was one of the toughest calls I’ve ever had in my 26 years as a coach,” Burgio said. “I’ve never seen a crew change their mind after that long. But it is what it is. We have to move on and get after it next week.”
The win gives Bennett (3-2, 3-2) a leg up in the race for a first round home playoff game. Clarence falls to 2-2 in Class AA and 2-3 overall and will need a lot of help to climb up the standings.
After starting the year with a tough loss to Lancaster, the Tigers have started to turn things around and compete in Class AA. McDuffie believes his young team learned a lot Friday night.
“I tell them all the time that ‘Adversity doesn’t build character, it revels it’,” McDuffie said. “The game was nail-bitter. We’re playing with young kids but we found a way to win. This game will help us down the road because of all the adversity we faced.”
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