AMBOY – There were enough momentum swings in the final quarter Saturday afternoon at The Harbor to make even the toughest football fan seasick.
Three minutes after the Amboy/LaMoille Clippers tipped the momentum needle in their favor, the Mercer County Golden Eagles swung it back the other way and won 33-21 to advance to the Class 2A semifinals.
The tail end of the 18-play, 10-minute drive that gave Amboy a 21-20 lead with 7:28 to play was enough to give the Clipper faithful ulcers.
Tyson Powers sneaked over center to pick up a yard and a first down at the Mercer County 1-yard line. The senior quarterback pumped his fist when a measurement confirmed the third-down conversion, the Clippers’ fourth of the drive that began at their own 33.
Fullback Jackson Sorrells was bottled up for a 1-yard loss. A false start took the ball back to the 7. Powers’ cutback on an option left to get 2 hard-fought yards. On third and 5, he extended the play rolling left before fitting the ball into a tiny window for Jordan Ernst, who slid along the back of the end zone to make the catch despite wet-shirt coverage by linebacker Devin Morford.
“We saw that they were bringing the blitz, so we just wanted to try to sneak a tight end,” Powers said.
The sneakiness continued. Instead of Canaan Ross lining up to kick the extra point, it was Powers, who kicked PATs until Ross took over during the postseason.
“We were thinking, ‘Are they gonna notice this?’” Powers said. “They didn’t, so we got lucky there. We’ll take it.”
Garrett Liebing snapped the ball directly to Powers. He lofted a pass to a wide-open Damon Quest, who released off the left edge.
But then Morford got even, and the vaunted Mercer County passing attack finally went yard after being held mostly to singles and doubles up until that point.
“When we got the two-point conversion, I thought momentum swung,” Amboy coach Gary Jones said. “We had done a very good job on defense of not giving up the big play, because that’s been their forte all season.”
Tanner Matlick connected with Tyson Nylin twice for 8 yards. After he hit Zach Nelson on a slant on the right side, Matlick went back to that side.
Morford, noticing the coverage was sagging deep, cut off a deep route and turned it into a hitch.
“There was a defender right behind him, so I was thinking maybe first down or something like that,” Matlick said.
Morford spun to his left to evade Sorrells and ran the sideline untouched for a 54-yard score with 4:23 to play.
“All I was thinking about was running as fast as I can to score,” Morford said.
The 6-foot-5, 200-pound Matlick chased the play and was at the 20, hands in the air as Morford broke the plane.
“I was going crazy, thinking, ‘Is this real life? Oh my gosh, that just happened,’” Matlick said.
Amboy moved the ball to its own 45, but on third-and-7, Austin Rooth jumped a Powers pass to Sorrells in the right flat. He juggled it for a moment before going 45 yards for a dagger-like score. The PAT made it 33-21 with 2:29 left.
“That linebacker just flowed right there,” Jones said. “He didn’t bite on anything.”
The pick was Powers’ first incompletion of the game, making him 5-for-6. After completing a 16-yard pass to Quest on the next drive, he threw another, caught by Logan Snyder. Kneel-downs brought Amboy’s season to a close.
Powers threw for 98 yards. Matlick was 12-for-18 for 204 yards, as the Eagles outgained the Clippers 313-287 in total yardage.
Zach Nelson led Mercer County (12-0) with 81 yard on 13 carries, one going for a touchdown. Cooper Nelson (16 carries, 63 yards) and Spencer Johnson (16 for 58) led a methodical Amboy attack that went 6-for-10 on third-down conversions.
The Clippers drew first blood, turning a fumble on Mercer County’s first snap into a touchdown. After Drew Fordham fell on the ball at the 13, Johnson took a toss left 11 yards. Cooper Nelson scored from the 2, and Ross drilled the point after with 8:37 left in the first.
Mercer County nearly turned a third-and-30 into a score on the next drive. Two Matlick passes moved the ball 35 yards for the first, but on fourth-and-goal from the 4, he hit Nylin along the right edge of the end zone. The wideout got a foot down, but safety Austin Covert hit him to jar the ball free.
But the Eagles scored on their next two possessions, on a 36-yard Zach Nelson scamper early in the second and a Matlick sneak with 4:52 left in the half.
Amboy answered. On third-and-6, Powers hit Taylor Ikens in the right seam. He absorbed a helmet-to-helmet hit by Zach Nelson and rumbled for a 50-yard gain, 40 of them after contact. Three plays later, Spencer Johnson coasted in from 2 yards away.
Andrew Klein registered Amboy’s only sack on the next drive, spearing Matlick at the Eagles’ 34.
“That was awesome,” Klein said. “All week, we preached how nobody’s been able to put some pressure on this kid. The secondary was able to do their job and help us get some momentum going into the half.”