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By Mike Capshaw
Special to the Citizen
For the first time in four years, Chiefland got a taste of what it feels like to beat Trenton on the football field.
It didn’t last long.
After the Indians scored an improbable touchdown to go ahead with 71 seconds remaining in regulation, the Tigers put together an even more improbable drive to come away with a 17-14 win on Friday, Oct. 12.
As an extra kick in the teeth, the Tigers (4-1) cued up a song over the speakers that began with the lyrics “Back to life, back to reality,” moments after quarterback Stephen Smith hit Hamp Cheevers on a quick slant on third and goal with 5.2 seconds left.
The reality is Chiefland (5-1) lost for the fourth consecutive time in the rivalry.
Cheevers’ catch with Chiefland’s GG McClendon blanketing him sent the home sidelines and crowd into a frenzy.
“They are a confident group in their running ability, so we couldn’t sell out 100 percent to (pass) coverage,” said CHS coach Aaron Richardson. “We were in tight coverage, but the kid made a great play. I think he had to secure (the ball) with one hand. It was a big-time play. We were right there. It’s a game of inches.”
After Chiefland’s touchdown, Trenton took over at its own 49 after a squib on the ensuing kickoff. Smith tossed an incompletion on the first play, but then connected on his next four passes, including a 32-yarder on the same game-winning slant pattern to Cheevers, to end the Indians’ hopes of ending a losing streak.
Several players teared up after the emotional game. Senior playmaker Deshawn Roland, who threw the go-ahead touchdown pass, kept his helmet on for several minutes after the game.
“Emotionally, it’s going to sting, especially for the seniors,” Richardson said. “I told them they’ve got 24 hours to pout because they played hard enough that they deserve it. I said, ‘But when you show up on Monday, you’ve got to be 100 percent focused on the Levy Cup and a district win against another rival with Williston.’ ”
Roland took a pitch from quarterback Shaq Patterson to the right, then set his feet before firing a pass back to his left to Patterson. Roland lofted the ball over the outstretched arms of a pair of defenders and led Patterson perfectly. He caught the ball in stride and somehow managed to stay on his feet as he broke tackles and made defenders miss on his way to the end zone to complete a 77-yard touchdown.
“We kind of have been sitting on that one,” Richardson said. “They are an aggressive group defensively and I hate running those little throwbacks and screens. It’s not in my nature to move the chains by manipulation, but good defenses force you to do it.
It came on second-and-29 as a pair of penalties ? two of the team’s 11 for 100 yards in the game ? backed the Indians up. It was the second long pass play for the Indians as McClendon used some excellent downfield blocking to turn a short screen into a 64-yard gain and set up an Alphonso Timmons’ touchdown run late in the first half.
The Indians finished with 225 yards thanks to the two big pass plays. They gained just 84 on the ground with the majority coming in the first half as the Tigers stopped CHS 10 times for negative yardage.
“We played well at times, but hats off to Trenton and their coaching staff,” Richardson said. “They had a good defensive game plan and they had us behind the down and distance a little in the second half … and they just made one or two more plays then we did.”
Richardson credited his team for “competing their hearts out” in front of a capacity crowd that was estimated at 3,000. Fans packed the stands, lined the fences and were four- or five-deep in the end zone to witness the thrilling game.
“Going into this game, I was 100 percent prepared for dogfight,” Richardson said. “They’re a good team and this was a rivalry on the road, and the road ain’t but 10 miles long. It was a great atmosphere to play football here and it’s hard to say they had a home-field advantage with the amount of support and fans we had here.”
Prior to the loss, Richardson told his players that it didn’t matter if they won by 40 or lost by 40 because it was a non-conference game against the Tigers.
“This is a tough way (to lose) but this is the kind of stuff that galvanizes a team,” Richardson said. “To see the hurt in each other’s eyes; they love each other and they love the game. This is a great group of kids. I’m sure we’ll come back and battle. This is just an eye-opener for us.
“The game means something for us because of the rivalry, but as far as our district and our playoff aspirations, it means nothing. So all of our hopes and dreams are still intact.”
Chiefland travels to Williston for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff on Friday in the Levy Cup game.
The Red Devils are 5-2 overall and 0-2 in 1A District-7 play after close losses against Dixie County (38-32) and Newberry (31-29). They hammered Eagle’s View 63-0 in Jacksonville last week to record their second shutout of the season. Chiefland defeated Eagle's View 48-0 in Jacksonville and Newberry 34-0 at Newberry earlier this season.
Williston is averaging a whopping 40 points per game with running back Keith Neal leading the way with 499 yards and nine touchdowns on 74 carries. Devon Webb has has 412 yards and a touchdown on 46 carries.
“It’s another huge game coming up for us and our kids are going to put this behind them as quickly as they can,” Richardson said. “I’m going to coach harder, they are going to practice harder and next Friday we are going to come out and play harder.”