Sometimes all it takes is a lucky bounce to swing the momentum of a game.
For the Central Tigers football team Thursday, that lucky bounce came on a 50-yard field-goal attempt as time expired in the first half at Houck Stadium.
With North County up 12-6, Central kicker Colin Schermann's field-goal attempt dropped on the goal post and bounced over. Central used those three points to take control of the game and, with 25 unanswered points, the Tigers defeated North County 25-18 in a battle of state-ranked Class 4 teams. No. 8 Central and No. 6 North County are 3-1.
"That's a big momentum change," Central quarterback Mitch Craft said. "We get the ball back. Anytime we're inside the 50 I feel good with Colin."
Down three with the ball out of halftime, Central's offense started to show signs of life. On a busted play, Craft found receiver Mark Dunaway going across the middle, and Dunaway broke loose for a 61-yard reception.
"I saw Mitch was scrambling, so I flowed to the middle," Dunaway said. "That's just something me and Mitch have."
Dunaway's reception led to Brandon Twigg's 1-yard touchdown run, his second of the game. After Schermann missed the extra point, Central had its first lead of the game at 15-12.
Once the Tigers got in front, the defense showed its bite. After a first half that saw North County quarterback Adam Howard throw touchdown passes of 33 and 53 yards with plenty of time to pass, Central picked up the pressure in the second half.
"Coach Haggerty, he hates to blitz," Central coach Lawrence Brookins said of his defensive coordinator, Bobby Haggerty. "But he realized tonight we needed something."
Central's blitz netted four sacks in the second half, including a big sack on fourth down midway through the third quarter that forced Howard to fumble the ball.
Off the turnover, Craft and Dunaway hooked up again for a 46-yard touchdown play. Schermann's extra point extended the Tigers' lead to 22-12.
"They were biting hard on us and they bit on the pump fake," Craft said of the play. "He was wide open."
Central got the ball back after a big sack by Darren Neels and threatened to push the lead to three scores. But after a big run by Twiggs, the Tigers were flagged for a false start on a fourth down on the 1-yard line. Schermann kicked a 23-yard field goal to give the Tigers their final score and make it 25-12.
North County's vaunted offense was denied once again on the next possession. Twiggs and Patrick Slattery had back-to-back sacks to give the Tigers the ball back with a little less than six minutes left in the game.
"We got on the d-line at halftime," Schermann said. "They got some excellent pressure in the second half."
The Tigers looked like they were going to put the Raiders away until a fumbled handoff gave North County the ball on Central's 13. The Raiders converted on a key fourth down and Dan Harris took the ball in from a yard out to cut the score to 25-18.
North County's defense allowed Craft and Tyrone Reece to gain key first downs but were able to force the Tigers to punt with 1:15 remaining. Central punter Clay Schermann was knocked down on the punt, though, and North County's ninth penalty of the game was the game-clincher for Central.
"We know what we need to do from now on," Craft said. "We have a lot of confidence and a lot of momentum."
Craft finished the game with 197 yards passing. Twiggs led the Tigers in rushing with 95 yards on 22 carries. Howard finished with 137 yards passing, but only had 36 yards after halftime.
Brookins said he was happy with the win but hopes his team will start playing a full game.
"We've got to figure out what we need to do to get more juice out of these guys early," he said. "We were very lucky tonight."
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