With 0:01 on the game clock and Carson standing at the 16-yard line down 30-26, CHS quarterback Garrett Schafer dropped back and zipped a pass toward the end zone for wide receiver Matt Nolan. As the ball fell into Nolan’s arms he took one step toward the goal line where he was met with a bone jarring hit from Reed safety Austin Warner, which dislodged the ball. As Nolan lay in the end zone recovering from the knockout smash that was delivered, both sidelines erupted believing they had just won. After the referees gathered to debate whether Nolan maintained possession long enough to score, they turned toward the Carson crowd and raised their arms to signal touchdown: Carson 32, Reed 30.
“The game wasn’t lost on the last play,” Reed coach Ernie Howren said. “We had opportunities in the game and we didn’t capitalize. When they had opportunities, they took advantage of them and we didn’t, and they won the ball game. It’s that simple.”
While the call on the field will be up for debate in the days to come throughout the local prep world, Howren said the Raiders could have avoided the game coming down to the last play had they executed better throughout the first 47 minutes and 59 seconds of the contest.
“Overall, I am not proud of any effort that we made because we did not play the game that we are capable of playing. The kids are disappointed and the coaches are disappointed,” Howren said. “We did not play a very good football game today. Give it to Carson. Carson played their tails off. They were much more physical up front than we were.
“We became one dimensional because we could not run the ball up front. We could not push the front. Obviously, we have to come back and learn how to run the football.”
Unable to assert its ground attack, and playing from behind beginning at the 6:15 mark of the second quarter, Reed took to the air with quarterback Mark Nowaczewski attempting 45 passes. While the Raiders were efficient enough vertically to keep pace in the game, Howren said there were a number of plays in which receivers were open deep that could have been home runs for the Blue and Gold and in turn changed the outcome.
“Those are the missed opportunities that I was talking about. Those were huge,” Howren said. “We had about seven missed opportunities that should have been either a touchdown or a big play, and we didn’t convert on them.”
Before the game came down to the last play, Reed mounted a comeback from being down 26-17 midway through the third quarter.
After the two sides traded a pair of touchdowns, which put the Raiders ahead 14-12 at the 9:47 mark of the second quarter -- with the difference being two blocked Carson PATs -- Senators’ running back Joey Thurman sparked the home team.
Thurman took the ensuing kickoff at his 10-yard line and returned it 54 yards to the 36 of Reed territory. Working its way into the red zone, Carson found itself with a third-and-17 from the 18-yard line. Stepping in at QB, Nolan scrambled for just a hair more than the 17 yards needed, putting the Senators at the goal line before Thurman punched home the score for a 20-14 advantage with 6:15 until halftime. Reed closed out the half with a 20-yard field goal off the foot of Chris Denn, leaving the scoreboard reading 20-17 in favor of the hosts.
Out of the intermission, the Reed defense looked inspired as it forced a three-and-out and gave the ball to its offense. Unfortunately for the Raiders, two plays later Carson’s Logan Krupp leapt into the air between Nowczewski and his intended target for an interception in the Raiders’ half of the field.
Starting at the 33-yard line, the Senators eventually drove to the six for a first-and-goal chance. Three times Carson tried running up the middle and three times the Raiders shut them out. With fourth down and three yards to go, the Senators rolled the dice and elected to go for the TD. The gamble paid off for Carson as Nolan took the snap and rolled to the left before diving to the line for the score and a 26-17 advantage with 7:08 on the clock in the third.
Two consecutive three-and-outs for the Raiders left prospects looking dismal for a victory. As the clock wound down in the third quarter and the Senators were mounting another drive deep into the Raiders territory, the Reed defense decided to take matters into its own hands.
Yards away from essentially putting the game on ice and time running out on the third, Carson decided to run one last play before the fourth quarter. With the horn sounding to signal the end of the third, Reed defensive back Dominic Montenegro stepped in front of a quick pass to the left and went racing down the sideline before he stretched out backward over the pylon before being brought down in the end zone. The pick-six pulled the Raiders within a field goal with the score 26-23. It seemed to swing the momentum in favor of the east Sparks school.
With its defense shutting the Carson offense down, Reed’s Wade Eiler returned a punt to the Senators’ 25-yard line with the help of a monster block from Ty Shepard. Taking advantage of the field position and just under four minutes remaining in the game, the Raiders worked their way to the 6-yard line on two passes to Devin Gray. On a fourth-and-1, Reed had to decide whether to go for the tie or the win. Not a team to shy away from going all in, the Raiders went for it and converted for the first on a Nowaczewski keep before the QB tucked the ball and ran again for a 2-yard touchdown to give the visitors their first lead since the 9:47 mark of the second quarter. That made the score 30-26 edge with 2:05 to play, thus setting up the last-second fireworks.