SYLVESTER -- A stream of Worth County Rams broke the postgame huddle, charged in elation past the scoreboard that beamed the 23-14 victorious final score against Monroe and sprinted into the home locker room.
It was time to celebrate a win that earned the Rams a berth in the playoffs and game next week at Woodward Academy.
Behind the crowd slowly limped running back Jhue Rhodes. His helmet and shoulder pads were gripped in his right hand to balance painful strides.
Rhodes spent most of the week roaming the hallways with the same limp due to a sprained ACL and even earlier Friday didn't think he would play in a game to determine if his team would make the playoffs or be left out.
Following a wild comeback victory where Jared Edwards kicked the game-winning 27-yard field goal with two minutes remaining and Sudarien Smith intercepted the Tornadoes' final attempt and took it back for a touchdown with 11 seconds left, Rhodes couldn't bare to run with his teammates in celebration.
He didn't need to. He'd already run for them all night.
Rhodes carried nine times for 80 yards and a touchdown in the second half as the spark to a Worth County offense -- and Worth County team, really -- that appeared down and out of the playoff picture at halftime.
The junior put together back-to-back runs of 26 and 19 yards on the final drive that set the Rams up in field goal range for the final kick. When asked what pushed him through a pain that he felt through every cut, hit and handoff, his only reply was, "Faith."
"Never give up, I had to keep fighting," said Rhodes. "Told my guys I believe in them and keep fighting and I would continue to run hard."
He symbolizes a Worth County team that began the season 1-4, then came back to now win four of its last five to steal the No. 3 playoff seed from Monroe. And they did it by coming back from a 14-7 halftime deficit where it was outgained in the first half 210 yards to 79 -- 52 of those coming on one pass play.
The Rams fought back behind the running of Rhodes and a defense that didn't allow a first down in the second half, until Monroe took the ball near its own end zone down three with under two minutes left.
And that drive ended in Smith's pick-6 on a fourth-and-10 play for Monroe at the Worth 34 with 30 seconds remaining.
"I told the kids, I wouldn't swap any job in this world for anybody here right now," coach Scotty Ward said. "Right here, right now is where I want to be. I wouldn't trade it for nothing in the world. It has been such a great ride from where we were, but I never gave up on you and you never gave up on yourself. It's wonderful, it really is."
With the loss Monroe falls to the No. 4 seed in Region 1-AAA and goes on to play at Class AAA No. 6, undefeated Jackson next week.
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