Deerfield QB Dallas Margeson, left, celebrates with teammate Rich Fallaw after Margeson found the end zone on a one-yard dive in the first half of the GISA Class AAA state title game Friday vs. Heritage. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — Kh’Ron McClain was hit by a wall of tears. KE’Marvin Pitts was in shock and Rich Fallaw was looking for his heart.
Westin King? He didn’t see anything.
He just heard it and felt it.
That’s how it ended, this incredible, unforgettable state title game -- a game they will be talking about at Deerfield-Windsor for years, a game that didn’t end until Joe Bonner’s final pass of the year was batted away in the left corner of the end zone, ending Heritage’s last-gasp, heart-stopping drive and season.
Somehow, it was finally over: Deerfield 27, Heritage 19.
Bedlam, pure and crazy bedlam stormed the field along with the Deerfield kids and fans. It was Mardi Gras meeting New Year’s Eve right there at the 50-yard-line of Webb Memorial Stadium, where the Deerfield kids danced and leaped and hugged --- and hugged some more --- and shouted to the heavens.
Deerfield (13-1) had held off a gutsy and gritty team from Heritage to win the GISA Class AAA state title at home in front of a standing-room-only crowd that spilled over everywhere -- just like the emotions of the Deerfield kids spilled out onto the field at the end.
“Its indescribable. I just don’t have words to describe how it feels right now,’’ said McClain, who had an indescribable performance for the Knights. He rushed for 269 yards and scored two touchdowns to lead the way, and he was there for the final play of the game, the night and season.
Heritage, a infant school that’s barely seven years old, was in its first state title game, and the Hawks didn’t want it to end. They came back one last time, driving to the DWS 14-yard-line in the final two minutes. Bonner spiked the ball for one last chance with 1.4 seconds on the clock, before throwing a pass to Candler Rich in the left corner of the end zone.
Rich had carried Heritage (11-2) all year and all night.
“Who else, but Rich?” said DWS coach Allen Lowe when he was asked about the final play. “Of course they went to him on that play.’’
Pitts, who had already made three huge plays knocking down passes and picking off an interception, was there along with McClain, and they sandwiched Rich, covering him like a blanket.
King, a two-way lineman, never saw the play.
“I was on the ground and didn’t see what happened,” he said. “But I heard the crowd and then heard the celebration. Everyone went crazy.’’
Maybe he was lucky. They were holding their breath on the DWS sideline.
“When the ball went in the air, my heart dropped,’’ said DWS receiver Rich Fallaw, who had a big night, catching four passes for 64 yards and a TD. He was trying to catch his breath on the sideline when the final pass was launched.
“We knew the ball was coming to (Rich),” Pitts said. “We were dialed in for that play. I just jumped as high as I could to try to knock it away.”
Both Pitts and McClain got their fingers on it, just in time to tip it away from Rich, who fell to the ground in tears after the play. He wasn’t the only one crying.
“I don’t know,” McClain said. “I just came to tears. When the ball hit the ground, I just started crying. I never thought I would cry, but I did. They were tears of joy.”
Pitts was standing next to him.
“I was in shock,’’ Pitts said. “I just shouted, ‘We did it! We did it!' "
Yes they did.
Funny, but on Thursday DWS two-way lineman Patrick Forrestal had talked about how Deerfield was so close to winning a state title. He said: “It’s right there on our fingertips.’’
That’s the way it ended.
“I just dropped to my knees and thanked God,” said Forrestal, who has already to committed to continuing his playing career and education at Navy. “I never thought it was going to end. That last two minutes was heart-wrenching. I can’t even explain it.’’
Forrestal tried to end the game himself earlier in the drive, stopping Rich on back to back plays, but Rich and the Hawks simply kept coming.
“He’s a great running back,’’ Lowe said of Rich. “It seemed like there were eight of him. That kid is a phenomenal player.’’
Rich finished the night with 105 yards rushing on 23 carries, and he made five receptions for 144 yards, including a 73-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown that closed the gap to 14-12 with 6:56 left in the first half. But his play of the night came just seconds after McClain had given DWS a 27-12 lead with 1:04 left in the third.
Rich immediately answered with an 85-yard kickoff return that closed the gap to 27-19. It stayed there the rest of the night and is now etched in stone in the GISA record books.
McClain had his own record-breaking night, eclipsing former Herald Player of the Year Tony Zenon’s single-season school rushing record on a night when Deerfield needed every yard. McClain entered the game needing 201 yards to tie Zenon, who is now at Georgia Tech, and 202 to break the record that was set in 2009. He literally broke it on a run that ultimately broke Heritage’s back.
Deerfield led, 14-12, at halftime, thanks to Heritage coach Kevin Prisant’s decision to go for two points after Heritage’s first two touchdowns, and two extra point kicks from Deerfield‘s Harry Vildibill.
Prisant played for DWS’ 2002 state camps and was also an assistant coach at Deerfield. It was a bittersweet homecoming for him.
“I knew if we did what we were supposed to do, we could play with these guys,” Prisant told the Newnan Times-Herald. “I do think we lost to a better football team. They have been here before, but we played our hearts out.
“If you had told me back when we were in camp, that we play for the state title in our first year of Class AAA competition, I would have said no way. We weren’t going to let them just them take it to us. We showed so much fight tonight and that’s all you can ask for.”
Deerfield’s Sam Shellhaas blocked a punt to set up the first points of the game, giving the ball to the Knights at Heritage’s 14-yard line. On third-and-five, Dallas Margeson hit a wide open Fallaw for a 9-yard TD pass with 6:07 left in the first quarter.
Heritage bounced right back and drove 66 yards on seven plays and scored on Bonner’s 20-yard keeper with 2:38 left. But Bonner’s two-point conversion pass was high and incomplete.
The Knights drove 71 yards on six plays, including a 34-yard diving fingertip catch by Fallaw at the Heritage 33, and McClain scored on the next play to lift DWS to a 14-6 lead with 35 seconds left in the quarter.
Heritage came back with one of its biggest play of the night when Bonner connected with Rich for a 73-yard TD pass with 6:56 left in the half, but a big pass rush from Deerfield shut down Heritage‘s two-point conversion to keep it at 14-12.
Then McClain took over in the third quarter.
On a third-and-26 from the DWS 16, McClain busted free, broke two tackles and went 61 yards down the right sideline to keep the drive alive. McClain had a 12-yard gain to the 10, and Pitts carried the ball to the 1-yard line. Margeson scored on a quarterback keeper with 6:31 left in the third to lift DWS to a 21-12 lead.
McClain saved the next drive as well and came up with the biggest run of his career on a fourth-and-1 play from the DWS 30. He took the pitch, cut right and then flew by Heritage for a 70-yard TD run that not only gave Deerfield a 27-12 lead, but gave him enough yards to surpass Zenon’s single-season record for rushing on the play with 1:04 left in the third quarter.
Rich brought Heritage right back with his 85-yard kickoff return and Ben Dudley kicked his first PAT of the night to close to 27-19 with 51 seconds left in the third.
“It’s kind of nice to pitch it to No. 5 (McClain) occasionally,’’ said Lowe, who called McClain’s number 23 times. “He made that great play on third down and then had that fourth-down run. He had a great night, and broke Tony’s record. And we did what we had to do.
“There are times you don’t think the game is going to end. The clock just didn’t move in the last two minutes, but our kids found a way to persevere. I thought our defense was exceptional (Friday). It was the right two teams playing for the state title. They played their guts out, and our kids played their guts out.”
It was DWS’ fourth state title and third in the past five years. Lowe won his 200th game this season, but nothing is sweeter than the four big ones and this one came against former DWS player and assistant coach Prisant, who coached Heritage to its first state title game. DWS won state titles in 2002, 2008 and 2010, but this senior class was as special as any that ever suited up for the Knights, and these 16 seniors won 48 games in their four years at Deerfield.
“Now that it’s over, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way,” said King, a senior. “If you were going to write a story, it would end with one second left on the clock and one final play.’’