By: J. Daniel Pearson
Reading the box score, one would assume that Melbourne (1-4) scored a touchdown in overtime and then stuffed Tohopekaliga’s Churandy Duval on a fourth and goal from the one to record a 31-24 win over the previously undefeated Tigers.
But Friday night’s loss was much more than that. Tohopekaliga would be called for numerous holding penalties and personal fouls, including two highly suspect “targeting calls” that held their high-flying offense in check all night and kept several Melbourne touchdown drives alive – including the game-tying one with 34 seconds remaining.
“The officials did a great job tonight, especially padding their flag stats,” Tiger coach Anthony Paradiso said sarcastically before adding “it was the worst high school officiating job I have seen in 30 years and you can print that. This game will never sit right with me because the players were not allowed to decide the outcome.”
Paradiso’s problems with the officials began before the opening kickoff, when the game was delayed for five minutes. Huddled around the Tohopekaliga bench officials decided the Tigers would not be allowed to use their game balls because they felt they were “too tacky.” Each team provides their own game balls when they are on offense, and Paradiso said it was the first time in his career the legality of game balls were ever questioned.
Once the game did start, Tohopekaliga saw its first three drives of the game thwarted by five major penalties but still managed to forge a 3-0 lead on Taylor Domres 28-yard field goal. After being held to 34 yards on their first three drives, Melbourne’s offense finally got on track as Kymarlon Johnson hauled in a 10-yard scoring pass from Jordan Pidala as the Bulldogs took a 7-3 lead.
Behind the running of Duval, Toho’s offense would get moving in the final seven minutes of the second quarter. Quarterback Sabby Meassick would score from eight-yards out on a scramble and he would add an 11-yard scoring strike to Delvin Pryor with 56 seconds remaining as Toho took a 16-7 lead into the locker room.
But coming out of intermission, Meassick would be picked off and Padila would lead a seven-play, 68-yard touchdown drive capped with a 33-yard pitch and catch to Jalen Daley as Melbourne cut the lead to 16=14.
Another Meassick interception, this one coming when his receiver deflected the pass right to the defender, put the Melbourne offense in business again late in the third quarter. And again, another major penalty kept a drive alive and this time a Brady Clark field goal from 29 yards on the first play of the fourth quarter put Melbourne in front 17-16.
That set the stage for a wild finish. Hard-running by Duval would lead Toho on a long drive down the field, but a four and goal from the four, Melbourne stopped Pryor on a screen pass inside the one yard line on fourth down to create a turnover on downs. The Bulldogs would then pick up a first down but the Tiger defense would hold and force a punt attempt. The snap would go over Clark’s head and Tohopekaliga would recover on the 14. Duval would run it in from the three and Meassick’s conversion pass to Pryor made it a seven-point lead for the Tigers with just 3:44 remaining.
Taking over on the 25, Pidala would convert some big third down plays on the ensuing drive, but it was another huge questionable penalty that kept their last ditch drive alive. On a third and 13, Pidala completed a short pass and a Toho defender appeared to knock the receiver out bounds by hitting him below the shoulder pads with his forearm. Still, the officials threw a flag for targeting, and the ensuing 15-yard penalty would push the ball down to the Toho 35 and keep the drive alive.
Six plays later on a third and 10 from 12, Padila’s pass was tipped in the air by a defender and bounced high into the end zone where James Knolmayer caught it for a touchdown. Clark booted the extra point and the game was knotted at 24-24 with 30 seconds remaining.
Prior to overtime, Tohopekaliga won the toss and elected to go on defense first. But on the first play, Johnson broke three tackles on a sweep to his left and fell into the end zone for a touchdown and a 31-24 lead. On the Tigers possession, Duval ran for four yards on the first play and after an incomplete pass, he rammed the ball five more yards to inside the one. Inches away from the goal line and facing a fourth down, the Melbourne defense came up with the play of the game by stuffing Duval for no gain.
Duval had a huge game rushing for the Tigers, gaining season-high in both yards (174) and carries (27). Meassick finished the game 23 of 36 for 167 yards and accounted for two touchdowns but he was picked off three times.
T: Taylor Domres 28 FG
M: Kymarlon Johnson 10 pass from Jordan Pidala (Brady Clark Kick)
T: Sabby Meassick 8 run (Domres kick)
T: Delvin Pryor 11 pass from Meassick (kick failed)
M: Jalen Daley 33 pass from Pidala (Clark kick)
M: Clark 29 FG
T: Duval 3 run (Pryor pass from Meassick)
M: James Knolmayer 12 pass from Pidala (Clark kick)
M: Johnson 10 run (Clark kick)