Driving the ball down to the 5-yard line midway through the fourth quarter, the Wildcats (8-3) needed to convert on fourth and one with the game on the line.
After already making a fourth-down conversation inside the red zone, tailback Davontae Young was stuffed by Sylvania’s defense at the line, turning the ball over on downs with three minutes remaining and ultimately giving the Rams (9-2) a 13-10 win.
“We just didn’t block,” Saks coach Jonathan Miller said. “Give credit to Sylvania. They made a good play on that fourth and one. We’re just going to put it in the hands of our kids and let them try to get that yard right there and end the game. If we would have scored, it pretty much would have been over. But we didn’t make it. We just didn’t do a good enough job.”
It was a night of missed opportunities for the Wildcats, and the failed fourth-down conversation came between two plays that impacted the game drastically.
Despite starting the second half with a drive ended by an interception in the end zone, Saks still held the momentum in the game early in the fourth. Clutching a 10-7 lead, one missed block for Saks in punting formation changed the score and momentum.
After Chase Johnson’s punt was blocked, Jordan Cushen caught it in midair and returned it 30 yards to the house to take the lead.
“We didn’t have a punt block on,” Sylvania coach Alan Clayton said. “It’s just that we had one guy that if they don’t block him, then he has the ability to do that. So he went ahead and got his hand on it and it just happened to fall into our other one’s hands. We got a special teams touchdown off of that.”
After the Saks defense forced the Rams three and out and the offense turned it over on downs on the five, the defense came up big again.
“We played OK on defense,” Miller said. “We didn’t play with a lot of intensity and passion early on, but I guess we played a little bit better in the second half.”
With Sylvania taking over with three minutes left and the Wildcats having all three timeouts, Saks was able to get the ball back despite allowing a 12-yard run by Keith Bender, which appeared to seal the game at the time.
Despite Sylvania having to give the ball back to the home team, Bender did seal the game, however.
After Tre Smith was unable to do anything on the punt return, Saks took over on the Rams’ 40-yard line with 18 seconds left. On the first play, Bender intercepted Johnson for the second time on the night, this time clinching the win.
“People have picked on him all year long, and I don’t know why because I don’t know anybody that’s beat him,” Clayton said of Bender. “You look at him and he’s 5-7 and 100-and-nothing, but he’s really fast and he really plays great technique.”
Along with the two interceptions, Bender also rushed for 41 yards on 11 carries. Quarterback Josh Clayton finished the night 4-for-8 passing with 60 yards.
Saks was led on the ground by Young, who rushed for 53 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Johnson finished the game 13-for-25 passing for 147 yards and two interceptions, and Smith had six receptions for 78 yards.
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.