Tenaha edges upset-minded Joaquin on kickoff return as time expires

"It ain't over 'til its over!"

Baseball broadcast legend Yogi Berra said those words over 50 years ago, and they still hold true today. It has never been more true than Friday night at Raymond Jackson Stadium at Tenaha High School.

The Joaquin Rams scored a “Hail-Mary” touchdown with seven seconds left to take a 20-16 lead over the No. 1-ranked 2A-Div. II Tenaha Tigers, then converted the two-point conversion to make it 22-16.

Oh, but those seven seconds.

The Tigers made them count, as they executed multiple laterals on the ensuing squib kickoff, with senior Trai Gardner flipping the ball back to Jay Lloyd inches from the out-of-bounds line. Lloyd then sprinted all the way back across the field, turning the corner and, outflanking the Ram coverage, enroute to a 58-yard touchdown at least three seconds after the clock struck zero.

Christian Castillo, who had kept the Tigers in the game with a stellar three-for-three field goal performance, drilled the PAT to win one of the most memorable games in Shelby County history.

The game started off as a defensive struggle, with both defenses forcing punts before the Tigers mounted a four-play, 61-yard drive, capped off by a nine-yard touchdown run by Jay Lloyd. Castillo booted the PAT, to give Tenaha an early 7-0 lead.

A muffed kick return gave the Tigers the ball back, as Cahl Horn pounced on the loose pigskin at the Ram 35. The Ram defense held, however, and forced a 23-yard Castillo field goal.

The Rams went to the air on their next possession, as senior quarterback Tray Wilkerson found Connor Bragg behind the defense for a 42-yard gain.

Hunter Gates dashed in from the 11 on the next play to get the Rams on the board. Jesus Bravo kicked the PAT with 8:20 remaining in the second quarter.

Bragg picked off a C.J. Horn pass at the Tiger 46 and returned it 19 yards to set up the next score, this one a six-yard run by Kase Yates. Bravo’s PAT put Joaquin ahead at 14-10 with 6:14 left in the first half.

The Tigers went to a wildcat formation, with Gardner taking snaps, and proceeded to drive the ball to the Ram three-yard line, where the Joaquin defense made a stand. 

They backed the Tigers up eight yards in three plays, forcing Castillo’s second kick of the night, this one a 28-yarder to draw the score to 14-13 as the teams went to the locker room.

After another defensive stand forced a Tiger punt, the Rams started from their own 23, but were stopped on 4th and 2 on a great defensive play by the Tigers.

The turnover on downs gave the Tigers the ball back at the Ram 33, and put Castillo’s deft right foot very much in play.

The Tigers moved all the way to the Ram three yard line, but Jordan Thompson was stopped two yards shy of the goal line on third and goal. Castillo easily booted his third kick of the night from 19 yards to give the Tigers a 16-14 lead with 2:18 remaining in the game.

A pooch kick and 10-yard return set the Rams up at their own 35, with one timeout remaining. They converted a 4th and 15 with a pass interference penalty, and Wilkerson scrambled to the Ram 49, where he spiked the ball on the next play. On 3rd and six, Wilkerson scrambled to his right to buy time from an onrushing Tiger front, and found Bragg behind the defense for a 51-yard score. Tre Burns slashed in for the two point conversion, which set up the miracle kickoff return. 

Unofficially, the Rams outgained the Tigers 267 yards to 203. Connor Bragg led the way, catching two passes for 93 yards and a touchdown, to go with 36 yards rushing on five attempts. Hunter Gates ran for 61 yards and a score on seven carries. Senior Kase Yates pounded out 53 yards, mostly between the tackles, on 14 carries, scoring once. Tray Wilkerson completed three of six passes for 102 yards and a touchdown.

The Tigers were led by Trai Gardner, who ran for 18 yards on six carries, and hauled in eight catches for 73 yards. Onterrio Thompson picked up 56 yards on 11 tries, and Jordan Thompson gained 35 yards on six carries. C.J. Horn completed 10 of 13 passes for 86 yards, and was intercepted once. He also rushed for 26 yards on six carries. 

After the game, both teams were spent, but took time to complement each other on a hard fought game, before Tiger senior linebacker Chase Lilly volunteered to lead a post-game prayer.

The Tigers will be on the road for the first time next week, as they travel to Kerens to take on the Bobcats. The Rams will play their home opener against Maud, who dropped a 20-8 decision to Ore City on Friday. Kickoff for both games is set for 7:30 p.m.

Scoring summary:

(10:09): Tenaha 23, Joaquin 22. Tenaha uses multiple laterals on the kickoff as Jay Lloyd scores the game-tying TD and Christian Castillo the PAT for the win!! FINAL

(10:04): Joaquin 22, Tenaha 16. Tray Wilkerson hits Connor Bragg for a 55-yard TD pass with 7 seconds left. 

(9:53 p.m.): Tenaha 16, Joaquin 14. Christian Castillo hits third FG -- a 19-yarder -- to give Tenaha the lead with 2:18 TO GO.

End of third quarter

Tenaha High School using a helicopter to try and dry the field. Have to wonder why the game wasn't played at Center High with the Roughriders on the road.

Halftime

(8:27 p.m.): Joaquin 14, Tenaha 13. Tigers Christian Castillo hits another FG with 13 seconds left in half.  

(8:11 p.m.): Joaquin 14, Tenaha 10. Kase Yates with a 6-yard TD run for the Rams. 

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(8:01 p.m.): Tenaha 10, Joaquin 7. Joaquin on the board on Hunter Gates' 11-yard run with 8:20 left in half. 

(7:54 p.m.): Tenaha 10, Joaquin 0. Christian Castillo hits 24-yard field goal. 

END OF FIRST QUARTER

(7:46 p.m.): Tenaha on the board on Jay Lloyd's 9-yard run.