Jubilation quickly turned to extreme frustration in the final 30 minutes as the Northeastern A&M Golden Norsemen saw a 24-0 halftime lead evaporate during a 41-34 loss to the Tyler (Texas) Junior College Apaches Saturday afternoon at Robertson Field.
“This was the most frustrating football game in my entire coaching career,” Golden Norse head football coach Rob Green said. “They came out and definitely took it to us in the second half.”
Even though the Golden Norsemen lost a 24-point lead, the game actually boiled down to NEO's final gasp with 6 seconds left on the clock.
Facing a fourth-and-31 situation, NEO quarterback Bo Bowling launched a pass towards the endzone.
Like buzzards circling a kill, four NEO receivers and four Tyler defenders converged to the spot where the ball was coming down.
After skipping through the hands of Tyler defenders Jason Teague and Jacolby Reed and NEO's wide out Kevin Radford, the ball hit the hands of Golden Norse receiver Dee Williams at the 4-yard line.
As he turned toward the goal line Williams failed to secure the football and it fluttered to the ground as an incomplete pass.
Tyler quarterback Steven Schwark took a knee as the final horn sounded bringing down the curtain on NEO's third losing season in the past four years.
The Golden Norse finish 4-5 on the season and 1-5 in the Southwest Junior College Football Conference.
With the victory first-year coach Danny Palmer's Apaches stand 3-3 in the conference and 5-4 on the year.
During the first quarter, the Golden Norsemen drove 90 yards in eight plays on their first possession to grab the lead. Bowling connected on passes of 23 yards to Ryan Gonzales and 25 yards to Tucker to fuel the drive.
Once the drive bogged down, Jeremy Knott trotted on the field and kicked a 40-yard field goal to give NEO a 3-0 lead with 11:42 left in the first quarter.
Bowling found Dee Williams open across the middle for a 30-yard touchdown pass at the 10:06 juncture of the second quarter to end a 55-yard, three-play drive. Knott kicked the extra point to create a 10-0 Golden Norse lead.
Freshman defensive tackle Marcus Farmer pounced on a fumble by Tyler running back Devin Brown to give NEO the ball at the Apaches 45-yard line.
After bobbing and weaving through the Tyler defense for 30 yards, Bowling scored two plays later on a 2-yard plunge with 6:41 until halftime. The PAT by Knott boosted NEO's lead to a 17-0 margin.
With time winding down towards intermission, Bowling engineered a 67-yard, five-play drive to close out NEO's scoring in the opening half. Bowling hit Gonzales in full stride for a 50-yard touchdown pass. Knott's extra point gave NEO a 24-0 cushion with 29 seconds until halftime.
“I don't think they made too many adjustments at halftime,” Green said. “They just came out and took advantage of every mistake we made. They identified our weakness on defense and exploited it and then we throw back-to-back interceptions in situations where we should have just thrown the ball away.”
Taking the second half kickoff, the Golden Norsemen moved into Tyler territory only to have sophomore cornerback Charlie Glen pilfer the first of two errant Bowling passes. Glen returned the interception 32 yards to the NEO 20-yard line.
Freshman tailback Chris Davis started a four-touchdown explosion with a 1-yard plunge with 11:30 left in the third quarter. Jake King's extra point created a 24-7 deficit.
Glen stepped in front of another Bowling pass and returned it 17 yards on NEO's next possession.
After seven plays starting at the NEO 43-yard line, Davis scored on an 8-yard run with 6:56 left in the third quarter. King missed the extra point as the Apaches trailed by a 24-13 margin.
“You can't turn the ball over like that and give a team like Tyler a short field,” Green said. “They didn't have to go very far on two balls that should have never been thrown.”
Unleashing a potent passing attack of their own, the Apaches needed only three plays to cover 49 yards on their next possession.
Schwark found tight end Nick Peoples wide open on a 40-yard pass play before connecting with freshman running back Vincent Brooks on a 4-yard TD pass play. The two-point conversion pass failed with 3:46 showing on the clock as Tyler trailed 24-19 heading into the final 15 minutes.
“In a lot of ways this game mirrored our entire season,” Green said. “We just couldn't do the little things it takes to win a football game.”
A prime example of that came on NEO's first possession of the fourth quarter. Moving 70 yards in eight plays the Golden Norsemen faced a 3rd-and-3 situation at the Apaches 3-yard line.
Quarterback Kaelin Woods took the snap and lateraled to Bowling who was in at running back. Bowling lobbed a pass to Kevin Radford in the back of the end zone for an apparent touchdown. Radford was ruled out of the end zone for no catch.
Knott kicked a 20-yard field goal with 14:27 left in the game to create a 27-19 Golden Norse lead.
A 50-yard pass play from Schwark to freshman wide out Alonzo Adams ignited a 72-yard, five-play drive by the Apaches.
Davis scored on a 10-yard run and Schwark added the two-point conversion run to pull Tyler to a 27-27 tie with 7:51 showing on the clock.
The Schwark-to-Adams combo clicked again for a 30-yard gain as the Apaches marched 80 yards in 10 plays. The drive ended with Davis scoring on a 4-yard run. King's extra point gave Tyler a 34-27 lead with 2:52 left in the game.
With the aid of a pass interference call against Tyler, the Golden Norsemen covered 67 yards in four plays.
Freshman tailback Jeremiah Sampson contributed a 30-yard run before Bowling fired a 7-yard touchdown pass to Gonzales with 1:59 remaining. Knott kicked the point-after to create a 34-34 tie.
On the ensuing kickoff, Adams fielded the ball at his own 7-yard line. Taking advantage of a solid wall of blockers, Adams raced down the sideline for a 93-yard touchdown return that took 14 seconds. King hit the PAT with 1:45 left in the game.
The Golden Norsemen generated 428 yards in total offense that included 214 yards rushing and 214 yards passing.
Bowling led all rushers with 140 yards on 28 carries while Sampson contributed 64 yards on eight carries. The 5-11, 208-pound sophomore completed 7 of 20 passes for 161 yards and three TDs with two interceptions.
Gonzales led the Golden Norse with three receptions for 80 yards while Tucker added three catches for 78 yards.
Tyler accumulated 438 yards in total offense. Davis led the Apaches ground game with 132 yards on 27 carries and three TDs.
Schwark added 26 yards on three carries while completing 17 of 30 passes for 260 yards and one TD. Adams caught nine passes for 156 yards to lead the Apaches receiving corps.