By Jim Hunter
Throughout the game against Eisenhower, Cochranton coach Nate Liberty was chest-bumping and high- and low-fiving his players.
The Cardinals’ boss was feelin’ it.
The last nine seconds of the game? Liberty experienced the agony of a gut-wrenching defeat.
Jarrett Johnson’s 11-yard touchdown reception and Alex Johnson’s game-winning, two-point conversion run with :09 left in the game powered Eisenhower to a thrilling 29-28 victory over the Cardinals in a key Region 2 clash Friday night.
With the last-second win, the Knights remained unbeaten in the league at 4-0 and are 4-1 overall. Cochranton dropped to 2-2 in the league and 3-2 overall.
A dejected Liberty had few words afterwards: “A tough loss, but I am really proud of my players. They fought to the end.”
When asked how he thinks his players will respond to this tough loss, Liberty said, “That is a good question. We have come together in the last couple weeks and I think we will bounce back.”
Eisenhower’s winning drive started at its own nine with 1:52 remaining in the game.
Getting two huge carries of 35 and 15 yards from Alex Johnson, the Knights moved the ball to Cochranton’s 11 with nine seconds left in the game.
On third-and-four, Eisenhower quarterback Rob Wilston lofted a pass to Jarrett Johnson in the right corner of the end zone, who outjumped Cochranton defensive back Jamar Moody for the touchdown reception.
Trailing 28-27 and without hesitation, Eisenhower coach Jim Penley opted to go for the win instead of a tie as he called Alex Johnson’s number on the PAT.
Taking a pitch from Wilston, Johnson started off to his right, but found several Cochranton defenders. He immediately reversed his field and dove into the end zone for the game-winning points.
“There was no way I was going for the tie,” said Penley. “Cochranton is a physical team and they were putting a thumping on us. It was a crap shoot and we won.”
When asked if he was surprised Eisenhower went for the win, Liberty said, “No ... I would have done the same thing.”
Cochranton’s loss spoiled a tremendous performance from senior quarterback/running back Garrett Adams.
Taking over the leadership role for the injured Chad Eisenhooth, Adams was the driving force for the Cardinals as he rushed for 176 yards on 26 carries and scored one touchdown.
“Garrett played a great game ... he’s a baller,” said Liberty.
Eisenhooth missed his second consecutive game with a high ankle sprain. He was a game-time decision and Liberty elected not to play him.
With Adams leading the way, the Cardinals fired out of the gates as they scored on their opening possession. Moody capped off a 66-yard, 12 play drive with an 11-yard touchdown run.
The pumped-up Liberty met his players on the field: high- and low-fiving his players.
After Wilston scored on a one-yard run, Cochranton found paydirt again on its second possession as Jake Yarnell plunged in from the 1-yard line to give the Cards a 14-8 lead with 8:56 remaining in the first half.
On Eisenhower’s ensuing possession, the Knights were driving in to score, but the Cardinals’ defense stiffened as they recorded four consecutive negative-yard tackles.
With 53 seconds remaining in the first half, Alex Johnson — after a 58-yard run — scored on a one-yard run to give the Knights a 15-14 halftime lead.
Ignited by a 52-yard run by Adams, Cochranton regained the lead on the opening possession in the third quarter as James Groover scored on a four-yard to give the Redbirds a 20-15 lead.
After a costly Cochranton fumble on a punt return, Eisenhower overtook the Cardinals, 21-20 as Wilston scored on a four-yard run with 11:28 left in the game.
A few minutes later, Liberty was chest-bumping his players.
Ignited by Jesse Staudt’s 21-yard run, the Cardinals marched 62 yards on nine plays as Adams finished it off with a 13-yard touchdown run to give CHS a 28-21 lead with 7:39 left in the game.
The enthusiastic Liberty met his players on the field and exchanged chest-bumps with some of them.
A few minutes later, Liberty was picking up his players’ spirits after a tough last-second loss.