WOODSTOCK — As Cambridge’s players rushed the field, Woodstock’s fell to the ground in utter disbelief as the final second ticked off the clock.
Trailing 20-16 with 9 seconds left to play, Cambridge quarterback Zach Harris evaded the initial pass-rush and heaved the ball 50 yards downfield. Woodstock defenders tipped the ball, but it fell in the hands of Bears’ receiver Hayden Gardella, and Cambridge won 22-20 on Friday at the Wolverine Den.
In a game neither team seemed to deserve to lose, it was a moment of magic that decided the victor.
“That’s the best game I’ve ever played in,” Gardella said as he attempted to catch his breath on the field. “I just ran and got behind them, hoping for a tip, and it fell right down to me. I’ve never scored a touchdown like that.”
The final play decided the outcome, but a back-and-forth fourth quarter saw both teams make winning plays which could have won the game had it not been for Gardella’s heroics.
Less than a minute before, Woodstock (0-3) drove 57 yards on eight plays to score the go-ahead touchdown when Walker Ormsby found Wes Bruno on an 8-yard touchdown pass. The perfectly executed 2-minute drive made the score 20-16 and was a gutsy answer after Cambridge (1-1) scored on the previous possession following a fake punt on a fourth-and-long.
Gardella’s last-second catch was the third lead-change in the final quarter, and players and coaches on both sides seemed at a loss for words following the chaos.
“We’ve never been on that end of it,” Cambridge coach Craig Bennett said. “We’ve been on the other end of it a couple times. You know, you look at the clock and there’s 9 seconds and you think it’s over. We always talk about not quitting, and our kids just didn’t quit. I’m just super proud of them. It’s a great way to win, but man it’s a tough way to lose, because it’s just a chance play.”
The ending was fitting for two teams which played an even game in nearly every statistical category.
Woodstock finished with 300 yards of offense, compared to 336 for Cambridge. Ormsby was 16-for-28 passing for 211 yards and three touchdowns, while Harris was 15-for-24 passing for 211 yards with three touchdowns. Bruno finished with eight receptions for 111 yards and two touchdowns, while Gardella finished with four receptions for 63 yards and one touchdown.
Both teams suffered multiple turnovers, but both also executed late fourth-quarter drives to seemingly give themselves the win. After Woodstock’s final score, only 38 seconds remained on the clock.
“I just heard everyone scream. I didn’t even see him catch it,” Harris said. “I just threw it up and prayed. That was the most exciting thing ever. You see it on TV and you never really think you can do it.”
Woodstock coach Brent Budde gathered his team on the field and told his players to hold one another up. He urged the team to move forward from this game, but the weight of the moment could be seen on the players’ faces as they left the field.
“It’s gut-wrenching,” Budde said. “To see the kids hurting like they are after the effort they put into it, it’s really tough. Everybody is going to say that last play lost the game, but there were multiple plays that happened that we shouldn’t have made as well. And there were multiple plays we made, too. We’ve just got to keep moving forward and put it behind us.”
Woodstock heads into its bye week this week before returning to action Sept. 20 at North Paulding.