There was an eerily quiet atmosphere at the Grain Valley High School’s Moody Murry Field.
The home bleachers featured an overflow, standing-room-only crowd at Saturday’s homecoming game against Harrisonville, and Wildcat fans spilled out of the visitor bleachers and ringed the east side of the stadium complex three and four deep, standing along the chain-link fence.
With just 13 seconds left on the clock and underdog Eagles clinging to a 25-24 lead against the Class 4 third-ranked Wildcats, Harrisonville quarterback Zach Davidson barked out the signals as his team faced a fourth-and-1 with no timeouts left to stop the clock.
Eagles coach Jimmy Tucker was calling out assignments to his bend-but-don’t break defense, which looked like Lilliputians when compared to the massive Wildcats.
They needed to make one last heroic stand to claim the first win in school history against the storied Harrisonville program.
Davidson took the snap behind center, and was seemingly hit by everyone on the defensive side of the ball, but he managed to get into the end zone for the game-winning score.
With Harrisonville leading 31-25 and seconds left on the clock, the Wildcats kicked off to the Eagles, who successfully made seven lateral passes before finally being run out of bounds.
They might have lost the game on the scoreboard, but an appreciative crowd began to cheer the gutsy performance.
Many anticipated a running clock against an opponent that outweighed the line nearly 30 pounds per position. The Wildcats ran for 372 yards and held Grain Valley (3-3, 0-2 Missouri River Valley West) to just 3 yards on 21 attempts.
Behind the gritty play of sophomore quarterback Kellen Holland and senior wide receiver Hunter Ramirez, the Eagles threw the scare of a lifetime into the Wildcats (5-1), whose only loss this season was to second-ranked Bolivar.
“I was looking for the Stanford marching band at the end of the game,” quipped longtime Harrisonville activities director H.T. “Tom” Adams. “You have to give Coach (Jimmy) Tucker and his kids a lot of credit. They nearly scored on that last kickoff – it reminded me of the time the Stanford band was on the field (and California used five laterals and weaved through the Stanford band to score a touchdown and give the Golden Bears a victory).”
Tears streamed down the faces of many Eagles players as their parents and fans gave a standing ovation for their effort.
Then the coach had his team move to the sidelines to watch their classmates’ postgame marching band performance.
“We almost had 'em,” Tucker said after the Eagles scored 12 points in the fourth quarter to take a 25-24 lead on a 73-yard TD pass from Holland to Ramirez and a 1-yard run by Brenton Leighow.
“Kellen played so well, and the kids fought so hard. I think the entire team learned something today. We learned that we can compete with anyone. I think we earned some respect today. We lost the game, but there were so many positives today.”
Before taking his team to the sidelines to watch the band, Tucker gathered them at the 50-yard line said, in a soft voice, “I love you. I am very proud of you.”
Ramirez, who caught seven passes for 174 yards and a touchdown, said the team was bolstered by the effort.
“We didn’t stop until the game was over, we never let up, never quit,” Ramirez said. “They were bigger than we are, but we didn’t let their size intimidate us. Our crowd today was amazing! I am so proud to look into the stand and see everyone standing and cheering.
“We lost, but this is a special day. I’ll never forget it.”
Neither will David Hudgens, who used second and third efforts to score the first TD on a 4-yard pass play.
“We never quit – never!” Hudgens said. “We did a lot of good things today, a lot of things we can build on. I am so proud to be a part of this team.”
Holland completed 15 of 28 passes for 242 yards and two scores.