Harriman loses AA title game heartbreaker, 26-24

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By Goose Lindsay

Championship games are often remembered for big plays.

That was the case at Harriman Thursday night as Spring City used a pair of scoring passes from Seth Stulce to Weston Ray, including a game-winning 28-yard pass with 32.8 seconds remaining to give the Bulldogs a 26-24 victory in the Clinch Valley Conference Class AA Championship Game.

“It was their night tonight,” Harriman head coach Baron Tapp said after the game. “You’ve got to give them credit because they made the plays when the game was on the line.”

Tapp, however, said Thursday’s loss doesn’t dampen what was a great season for the Blue Devils.

“I’m proud of our team,” he said. “We lost more than 20 eighth graders last year, and I don’t think a lot of people expected us to be here. This was a fun group to be around this year.”

Thursday’s game started slow as neither team threatened in the first quarter.

Spring City did get the first big break of the game, however, when Harriman fumbled at the Spring City 47 on the first play of the second quarter.

The Bulldogs took advantage of the turnover by scoring 11 plays later on a one-yard run. 

Spring City added the two-point conversion to take an 8-0 lead with 3:02 left in the first half.

That lead didn’t last long, however, as Harriman’s Jo Jo Luna returned the ensuing kickoff 64 yards to the Bulldogs nine yard line, and T.J. Phipps scored from there on the next play.

Phipps also added the two-point conversion to tie the score at 8-8 with 2:46 left in the first half.

It seemed that would be the score at halftime, but another Blue Devils fumble with 40.4 seconds left in the second quarter set up a four-play, 33-yard scoring drive that gave the Bulldogs a 14-8 lead with 17.3 seconds left in the half.

Spring City’s two-point try was no good.

“Turnovers hurt us tonight,” Tapp said. “You can’t make mistakes if you want to win a game like this.”

Harriman held on to the ball in the second half and quickly took the lead.

Luna returned the second half kick 45 yards to the Bulldogs 23, and he scored four plays later on a six-yard run.

Phipps added the two-point conversion to give the Blue Devils a 16-14 lead with 6:06 left in the third quarter.

After an exchange of punts, it was Spring City that used a 36-yard punt return to set up shot at the Harriman 24.

Harriman’s defense nearly came up with a stop, but on fourth-and-six from the 20, Stulce hooked up with Ray for a 20-yard touchdown on the final play of the third quarter.

Spring City’s two-point try was no good, leaving the score 20-16 in favor of the Bulldogs.

Harriman came right back with an eight-play, 53-yard scoring drive to regain the lead. Phipps scored the touchdown on a 13-yard run, and he added the conversion to make the score 24-20 with 3:55 left to play.

Things looked even worse for the visitors when the ensuing kickoff bounced out of bounds off a Spring City player at the Bulldogs 11 yard line.

But the Bulldogs weren’t to be denied. Sparked by an early fourth down conversion followed by a 26-yard run, Spring City moved the ball deep into Harriman territory.

Harriman again seemed poised to pick up the win after a penalty moved the Bulldogs back to the 28, but on third-and-17 from there, Stulce threw a jump ball that was hauled in by Ray for the touchdown with 32.8 seconds left to make the score 26-24.

Harriman crossed midfield on their final possession, but could get no closer than the Bulldogs 42 yard line.

Harriman ended the evening with 151 yards total offense.

Harriman Statistics

Rushing- Phipps 23-152 with 2 TDs, Luna 3-10 with 1 TD, Team 2-(-11).

 Passing- Arwood 0-3.