Late touchdown sinks Tigers’ playoff run

First Academy wins Class 3A regional semifinal 21-14


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Holy Trinity's Kevin Chandler (with ball) intercepts a pass on the last play of the first half during Friday night's Class 3A regional semifinal. Chandler scored two touchdowns, but the Tigers lost 21-14

VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala

As disappointing as it was to realize he had just played his final game as a member of the Holy Trinity football team, Larry Hill walked off the field with his head held high for one simple reason:

“I did everything I could,” the senior running back/defensive end said. “It doesn’t come out how you want it to come out every time. But as long as you can say, ‘I gave it all I got,’ in the last game, that’s all I can say.”

Hill wasn’t the only Tiger who could say that after losing 21-14 to The First Academy in Friday’s Class 3A, Region 2 semifinal.

The Tigers had leads of 7-0 and 14-7 thanks to a pair of Kevin Chandler touchdowns. But each time, First Academy came back, before eventually taking the lead on a 39-yard touchdown run with 2:15 remaining.

“They played, they fought, and I guarantee you that – when we look at the film – the lack of depth caught up with us,” Holy Trinity coach Nate Hooks Jr. said. “We dominated that game. Not taking anything away from them. They won. They had more points on the board.

“But that’s an interesting game. We dominated and lost.”

The Tigers scored on their first offensive play as quarterback Ja’Lon Hudgins threw a short pass to Chandler, who took the ball 57 yards for a touchdown.

First Academy, with its big line and Wing-T offense, was able to grind out a second quarter drive to tie the game at 7-7.

Holy Trinity would take the lead again in the third quarter when Chandler lined up at quarterback and took it in from 13 yards out.

But that’s when some of Holy Trinity’s depth issues began to show.

The Tigers, who played the entire season without highly-recruited receiver James BlackStrain because of a knee injury, suffered a number of key injuries throughout the year. And when you only have 26 players, a number of them playing both ways, it can add up.

On Friday night, it was linebacker Carlos Estronza who had to come out of the game because of an injury with First Academy facing a long third-down situation. The Royals completed a pass for a first-down, then completed another pass to put them in scoring position and eventually tie the game.

With just over five minutes to go, Holy Trinity was just inside First Academy, facing a fourth-and-8 from near midfield. Hooks, who has been known to gamble in those situations, did it again. Only this time, the Tigers threw an incomplete pass and turned the ball over on downs.

“I just believed we could get it,” Hooks said.

First Academy took over and started to move the ball downfield, the crushing blow being the 39-yard touchdown run in which Royals’ running back Terrance Mosely II broke several tackles.

Now trailing 21-14 with 2:15 to play, the Tigers tried to put together the game-tying drive, but turned the ball over on downs when a heavy First Academy pass rush forced an incomplete pass on fourth down with 46.7 seconds remaining.

Hill said he was aware his high school football career was about to end in those closing moments, but said it will probably hit him harder later.

“I’ll probably feel it even more (on Saturday) … next week … next month,” Hill said.

That will probably be true for the rest of the seniors on this year’s Holy Trinity team – Chandler; Trey Palmer; Benji Nicks; Timmy Nunno; Joe BlackStrain; Nick Greene; Dee Marvine; Jaden Patton-White and Brooks Hill.

“This senior group … I’ve got to say everyone’s close,” Hill said. “We’ve got seniors all the way down to freshmen crying right now because we know the team that played on this field had so much potential, so much stuff we could do.

“It just came down to injuries. Us being injured hurt our season so much. But I know we can keep our heads high because that’s how we go.”

Hill, who has been playing for the Tigers since he was an eighth grader, reflected on his time at the school.

“Amazing,” he said. “I wouldn’t take back a single thing. … Learning from Jashaun (Corbin), learning from everybody that was hear with me, I can honestly say, all five years here, I gave it my all. I wish I could go back in time, but I can’t.”

With 21 scholarship offers from schools like Iowa State, Colorado State, Tulane and Buffalo, Hill will be playing college football at the next level.

He and the rest of the seniors leave behind a legacy that includes the Tigers going as far as any team in program history. Last year’s Holy Trinity team won its first-ever playoff game to reach the semifinals. This year, the Tigers (6-5) had a first-round bye.

But as he closed out his senior season, Hill had a message for all of his underclassmen teammates.

“It’s kind of hard to believe (it’s over), but I believe in my young friends. I know what they’re going to do next year,” he said. “I want them to do better than we did this year.

“I don’t want them to hold their heads down and believe the season’s over. I want them to be able to keep working and do better next season.”