Joe Kaufman pushed the football over from the 1-yard line in the second overtime putting the Orrick Bearcats on top for good, 34-28, Friday at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. Kaufman’s third touchdown of the game ended an afternoon that sent players and fans from Thayer and Orrick through an emotional roller coaster ride of emotions.
Orrick appeared to be just 17 seconds away from its second consecutive win over Thayer in the Class 1 state title game when the Bobcats – who seemed to answer every Orrick challenge all afternoon – fought back with a shocking 62-yard touchdown strike from Jacob Eckman to Lance Schneider on the game’s final play of regulation to tie the contest at 20-20 – just an extra point away from knocking off the defending champs and ending Orrick’s 28-game winning streak. However, Ethan Leisnring’s kick was not even close and the stage was set for the finish of the double-overtime thriller.
“That was the most dramatic game I’ve ever been part of in all my time,” Bearcat Coach Pat Richard said. “I don’t know if your going to find more heart on a field then what was exhibited on both sides today. That was the toughest team we have ever played as far as physically and mentally tough. They never laid down, they never quit.”
Just before the late-game fireworks, Orrick appeared to have mounted a 60-yard, 10-play game-winning drive that chewed up just over 5 minutes of the clock. When Logan Eubank, who gained a game-high 100 yards on the ground, crossed the goal line on a 16-yard run with 10 seconds remaining the Bearcats sported a 20-14 lead, and it appeared just a formality of running off the final ticks on the clock before Orrick could celebrate its third state title and second in a row.
However, Eckman, who ended the day with 147 yards passing and 80 more rushing, was able to hook up with Schneider despite being under heavy pressure from the Orrick defensive linemen. Schneider caught the floater and split two Bearcat defensive backs and won the race to the end zone.
“My heart sank,” Orrick linebacker Kalija Rogers, who led the team with 13 tackles, said. “I couldn’t believe that guy came up with the football with two guys there. But we came back and it’s just amazing that we came back in double overtime to beat the team that should have beat us on that last play. The kid missed his kick and we came back and took advantage of it and put it in the end zone when we needed to.”
Orrick shook off the disappointment and scored on its first possession of overtime as Kaufman completed his only pass for the day in 4 attempts when the ball deflected off Matt O’Dell into the hands of Calvin O’Dell for a 24-yard touchdown pass. It was Calvin O’Dell’s first game ever as tight end after moving from guard as injuries forced Richard to shuffle his lineup. Kaufman ran the conversion, but Thayer answered with a Josh Huckabee 1-yard touchdown plunge, and Eckman’s run for 2 to send the game into the second overtime.
The Orrick defense came up with the big play on Thayer’s third snap as Clayton Jones, who had been victimized twice in the game by Eckman, got some revenge with an interception to end the possession to give his team a shot at victory. Richard had confidence that his defense could make a play when it was needed.
“They beauty of the game of football is you can make a hundred mistakes in the first half of a game and you can make one play in the second half that matters,” he said. “It could be a game-changing play. At that point, does anyone remember the hundred? No. All they remember is that one play. Clayton Jones had two huge plays that he didn’t make, but Clayton Jones made the play when it mattered and when it counted.”
Orrick then finished the game with its possession in the second overtime as Kaufman crashed in from the 1.
“We talk about finishing,” Richard said. “We finish every drill and we finish everything we do and today was the ultimate finish. To go two overtimes with those guys, you have to have an incredible amount of guts, an incredible amount of heart. We exhibited that tonight, we finished and we won.”
For Thayer coach Billy Webber it was a bitter ending to a 12-2 season.
“Orrick won the ballgame, but I’m not sure we lost it,” he said. “Just an amazing game by both teams.”
Kaufman’s 4-yard run, and run for conversion in the first period had staked the Bearcats to an 8-0 lead before Eckman and Schneider hooked up for their first score on a 32-yard strike with 3:02 left in the half, but the pass for 2 was incomplete and Orrick held an 8-6 edge at the half. Another Kaufman scoring run, this one from 2-yards out, gave Orrick a 14-6 lead after the conversion run was stopped short. Once again, the Bobcats would answer with Huckabee picking up 10 of his 55 rushing yards for a touchdown and then adding the conversion to tie the game at 14-14.
Photo: Paul Miller (21), Matt Odell (14) and Clayton Jones (11) clamp down on Thayer quaterback Jacob Eckman. (Photos by Russ Green/The Daily News)