Last-minute football victories could cause case of Eaglemania

September 18, 1996|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Don't be surprised if Eaglemania overtakes Centennial football fans at this week's showdown with Wilde Lake in a game that unexpectedly may decide the county championship.

Eagle fans have lots to be hysterical about in just the third week of the season. Rated as a middle-of-the-pack team in pre-season prognostications, Centennial is suddenly hotter than the stock market.

Two weeks in a row, the Eagles have stared into the face of defeat and snatched away victory.

Given little or no chance of beating Liberty in their first game, the Eagles drove 80 yards on 14 plays and scored with 56 seconds left to snag a 20-17 win. Liberty was ranked seventh.

Then, last Saturday, they beat nemesis Oakland Mills, the defending county champions, 30-29, on a 70-yard touchdown pass and two-point conversion with 40 seconds left in the game. The Eagles, who hadn't beaten Oakland Mills since 1984, looked like an endangered species, trailing, 29-7, late in the third quarter.

But Jason Zolak, who caught an 84-yard touchdown pass against Liberty, caught a 75-yard touchdown pass to pull Centennial within two touchdowns of the Scorpions, 29-15, after three quarters.

Oakland Mills' top player, Fardan Carter, who had run 75 yards for one touchdown and intercepted a pass for another TD, and who had 212 yards rushing on 12 carries, was injured in the third quarter, however, and he didn't return.

Oakland Mills, which abandoned its wing-T in favor of an I formation, concentrated on the off-tackle run. The Scorpions accumulated 312 rushing yards and ran on 58 of 61 plays from scrimmage.

With six minutes to play, Centennial recovered a fumble at its 46-yard line. With 4: 10 left to play, Centennial quarterback Ryan Gielen scored on a sneak and the Eagles trailed by one touchdown, 29-22.

"I thought, at least, the score was going to be respectable," Centennial coach Ed Holshue said. "But the way Oakland Mills was running the ball, I didn't think we had much chance to win."

Oakland Mills drove from its 35-yard line to Centennial's 45 and went for a first down on fourth-and-12. A pass play fell one yard short of the first down.

Centennial was penalized back to its 30-yard line on first down for throwing an illegal pass. After an incomplete pass, the Eagles faced third down and long.

Gielen threw the ball up for grabs at the Oakland Mills 40-yard line. The Scorpion safeties both went for the ball. One tipped it backward and the Centennial receiver Chip Harrison caught it and ran for a 70-yard touchdown.

"It was so improbable that it was ridiculous," Holshue said. "It was divine intervention."

With his team still trailing, 29-28, Holshue said: "There was no question about going for two points."

Holshue brought in a new quarterback, a better runner, P. J. Paolisso, to run a belly keeper left. The Oakland Mills defense went for running back Scott Bross on the fake handoff, and Keith Williams made a key block on the cornerback to allow Paolisso to score the game-winning conversion.

"With Bross and Harrison and Nick Sfakianos, we have tremendous senior leadership," Holshue said. "They just refuse to let the team quit, and that's been the significant factor.'

"And our line is better than people thought. Tim Lee and Tim Miller did a great job."

"I've never been involved in a game to come that far behind in such a short time," Holshue said. "It was the most gratifying win in my seven years at Centennial."

Pub Date: 9/18/96

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