Senior night for Orange High School. Marquis Roy of Cedar Ridge laying out an unsuspecting Orange receiver. Ten year NFL veteran Alvis Whitted, an Orange alum, spent the game on the sidelines. The bands going back and forth seeing who could play their piece louder. Everything a high school, cross-town, rivalry game is supposed to be, Orange's 33-13 win over Cedar Ridge was.
A conference championship was also on the line for Orange, who came out of the locker room with as much passion as I've seen from them all season.
Senior Mike Williams opened the scoring with a 12-yard burst up the right side to make it 7-0 Orange in the first quarter. Their speed on the outside neutralized the linebacker tandem of Shawn Wheland and Jake Geary for much of the night. A 26 yard pass from Cedar Ridge's Alex Gregory to Geary set up Domonic Currie's first TD of the night, as the Red Wolves tied it 7-7 in the second.
Currie, playing his last high school game, left it all on the field for the Red Wolves. The 6' 185 pound speedster has had a tough season due to injuries, and was inclined not to be denied on Friday night.
Orange's Thomas Jones, whose name was synonymous with big plays on halfback sweeps all night long, set up, and then scored, the Panthers' second touchdown. Cedar Ridge was not content with the deficit, and made perhaps their biggest mistake of the night, trying to air it out to tie the game before halftime. Derek Long intercepted an errant Gregory pass and weaved his way 60 yards for the touchdown with just two seconds remaining before halftime. This was the momentum-changing play that one side was going to need to break it open, but the Panthers didn't exactly take advantage. "We should've put the game away at that point," Orange wide receiver Donovan McCulley said.
A third quarter pass intended for the Red Wolves' Josh Pappas, who was wide open down the right sideline, was the story of Cedar Ridge's night. Five interceptions from their three quarterbacks led to a whopping 26 Orange points. The mistakes hadn't quite buried the Red Wolves, however, when Currie broke the plane on a 2-yard run which included a powerful straight arm to a hapless Orange defender.
With Cedar Ridge down 20-13 and driving, Shae Breeze recorded Orange's third interception of the night. A 42-yard Donovan McCulley reception, which Luke Hawksworth courageously threw in the face of a massive Cedar Ridge pass rush, set the Panthers up for a 13-yard McCulley touchdown reception, which effectively ended the game.
The PA announcer, in the time between McCulley's touchdown and the ensuing kickoff, announced that Northwood had just taken the lead against Cardinal Gibbons, who was undefeated in the conference and responsible for Orange's only Mid-State loss. The crowd was worked into a frenzy, and the cheerleaders, doing 26 push-ups for the Panthers' 26 points, got up off the track jubilant.
Another Orange interception and punt gave Cedar Ridge one last chance with less than a minute left. Josh Pappas, who had an excellent game as a possession receiver, threw the final interception of the night. This time, it found the hands of Orange senior Darrel Wade, who took it back 36 yards to provide the final margin and a 33-13 win.
For Cedar Ridge, the game was a metaphor for their season. Bad luck in the form of tipped interceptions, missed opportunities, and injuries derailed the Red Wolves, who return a lot of promise next season.
Coach Lou Geary said, "These boys played their hearts out this season. I hate that the season ended this way, but the Red Wolves will be back." Secondary coach Michael Haynes added, "You just hate it for the seniors. You never know if they'll get another chance to play."
On the other sideline, the black-shirted Panthers were a different bunch. Yelling and hugs could be seen in the closing seconds, and they paid homage to their loud fans with fist pumps and cheers.
McCulley, who finished with 108 yards and a touchdown on six catches, was optimistic about his team's chances. The junior receiver said, "It's all about love. We play for each other, and that'll keep us successful in the playoffs."
"Everytime I think about my grandma, I make a big play. That'll always inspire me," he said when asked how he felt about the college interest he is starting to receive in light of his performance in the final weeks of the season.
An impromptu Panthers mosh pit, which didn't appear to involve Coach Dickie Schock getting a Gatorade shower, was quickly stopped by the players to congratulate the Red Wolves on their season. This sportsmanship, even in such a proud moment as this, was incredible to watch. It makes one like this good of a team that much more.