In a season with plenty of struggles – one win and several lopsided losses in nine games – Truman’s football team maintained a never-quit attitude.
That fortitude paid big dividends Friday, as the Patriots drove 93 yards to score the winning touchdown with 59 seconds left for a 27-26 victory over host North Kansas City to open the Class 5, District 7 playoffs.
Sophomore quarterback Carter Brown found Caleb Loa for a 23-yard scoring pass to tie the game, and freshman Josh Dixon added the PAT kick for the decisive point. The victory wasn’t secure until Northtown kicker Damien Hood’s line drive boot for a 34-yard field goal attempt with five seconds left drifted just to the left.
“Just super proud of these guys,” Truman coach Charlie Pugh said after a getting a couple water bottles dumped on him in celebration. “They just battled. We put them in tough positions offensively and defensively, and they came through every time. They wanted this for each other.”
With less than three minutes left in the game, Truman took over at its own 7 after a punt. Brown scrambled and found Devon Scheib for 28 yards, a pass interference penalty moved the Patriots (2-8) into Hornet territory. On fourth-and-7, Brown connected with Aaron Lehman for 24 yards.
On the next snap, fullback Loa slipped free into the left flat, caught Brown’s pass and picked up a block into the end zone.
Brown finished 7-of-18 passing for 172 yards, including a 42-yarder to Chase Schroeder in the first quarter for Truman’s second touchdown.
“They’re always there,” Pugh said of his team’s big plays on offense “We’re just missing them. Our passing game has really come along with Carter. They do a great job for him, and he’s a great student of the game
“We’re just finding our niche of who we are offensively.”
Northtown (3-7) made a bid to snatch the win away, as Zion Thornton hit Caleb Mendoza for 34 yards on fourth down and Price took a reception 21 yards to the Truman 13 with 34 seconds left.
The Hornets had to use their last timeout after Mendoza’s 3-yard catch, and on the next play blitzing linebacker Andrew Owens sacked Thornton, forcing a spike to bring fourth down and the fateful field goal try.
“I knew I had to make a play for my coaches and my teammates,” Owens said of the sack. “We came into this game with a little grudge; nobody thought we’d win. But we became a family tonight.”
The junior also came up big on offense, carrying 20 times for 166 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown to open the third that gave Truman a 20-18 lead. Brown also had runs of 51 and 34 yards.
Brown and Pugh both pointed to limiting mistakes – the Patriots had no turnovers and no holding penalties – and Brown added that for a team that has struggled to score this year, getting two touchdowns in the first quarter built plenty of confidence.
“We got off to a good start and didn’t go back. The beginning of the game went a long way.
For North Kansas City, its niche was junior running back/linebacker Clyde Price, who rushed for 353 yards and four touchdowns on 34 carries and caught three passes for another 54 yards. He had touchdowns of 64, 1 and 54 yards in the first half, and his 41-yard score on fourth-and-1 early in the fourth gave the Hornets a 26-20 lead.
He appeared to have another 1-yard TD on the Hornets’ next possession, but a holding penalty negated that, and Trenton Sorrells threw Price for a loss to led to a missed field goal try with 7:19 left.
Truman’s first score came on its second possession, when Schroeder shed a couple tacklers and rumbled 51 yards for a score. On their next possession Brown found Schroeder wide open over the middle.
The Hornets came back to lead 18-13 at halftime.
“It’s a great group of young men,” said Pugh, whose team travels to top-seeded Fort Osage next week. “Where they started, to get to this point, is unbelievable.”