It was a lineman’s dream.
With only seconds left in the third quarter of a close and crucial conference matchup at the Thunderdome, Falcons defensive lineman Ivan Williams scooped up a fumbled snap at the 31-yard line and ran it back for the deciding touchdown.
The big man refused to bask in the glory after beating North Pole; he’s just happy to put the Falcons’ atop the conference with the 22-20 win.
“I feel like the entire team won the game and not me,” Williams said. “The defensive line got a good push on that play to set me up for that and that’s all I want to say.”
Williams’ touchdown gave the Falcons a 22-12 lead with 3:22 left in the game, but an 80-yard touchdown run from North Pole running back James Bartley on the ensuing play had the Falcons sweating as the clock ticked down.
North Pole’s defense kept Thunder Mountain from running out the clock in the drive following Bartley’s touchdown. Forced to punt from midfield, Falcons’ punter Ryan Mayhew pinned the Patriots at their own 10-yard line.
North Pole moved the ball to midfield to threaten a hail mary, but consecutive sacks by the Falcons ended North Pole’s last-ditch effort.
“Our defense played great” Falcons defensive coordinator Derek Lofstrom said. “They always know the number one goal is a good team win, doesn’t matter if it’s 61-60 or 7-0.”
With starting quarterback Cale Jenkins sidelined with a concussion, backup Owen Mendoza steered the ship at Friday’s contest. Mendoza threw for a touchdown and guided Thunder Mountain’s offensive admirably in Jenkins’ absence, but it was special teams and defense that sealed the win for the Falcons.
The Falcons had to contend with Patriots senior running back Lafi’tione Skipps, a 5-foot-11, 215-pound senior who can turn opposing lines into swiss cheese.
“Our game plan was just to stop him, he’s really good,” senior linebacker Garth Tupou said. “We did it for Coach Ramage. This win means a lot but now we have two more games we have to win.”
The Falcons did all they could to hold Skipps to 172 yards on 26 carries.
“We’ve known he can do that since last year,” Falcons coach Randy Quinto said. “The main goal was making sure we stop the A gaps and minimize as much as possible, but he was still able to rip three, four yards a carry. You do that a couple times and you have a first down.”
After a defensive first quarter with the Falcons netting only one first down and the Patriots zero, North Pole opened scoring on a five-yard quarterback run. Thunder Mountain struck back in the closing minutes of the second quarter with a touchdown pass to Gabe Crawford in the corner of the end zone. A Falcons safety put the home team up 8-6 at half.
A six-yard run from TMHS junior running back Roy Tupou and a 43-yard run from Skipps put the game at 16-12 before Williams’ touchdown.
Defensive coordinator Lofstrom was happy for Williams, though his touchdown may have taken away one of his coaching tools.
“I told the defense, if a lineman scores a touchdown, no more up-downs,” Lofstrom said, referring to a conditioning drill. “They were pretty excited about that. Ivan has been lights out all year. He earned it, he deserves it and he’s going to let me hear about it the rest of the year.”