Hal Wasson's voice had years in it.

Years and a special kind of old fashion wisdom, where age mingles with youth and that look and feel of wide-open eyes and little boy surprise.

It was late Friday and Wasson, one of those legendary coaches who defines and redefines his career, was talking about his Tigers and their win over Sulphur Springs -- a 41-38 classic in overtime.

"I've done this for a long time," he said. "And I've been around a lot of great wins -- more than I deserve -- and a lot of great comebacks. But I've never started a freshman quarterback in a varsity game and I've never had two 99 1/2 yard drives in a game. 

"We had a freshman quarterback tonight (Ja'Marion Lewis) who completed 18 of 28 passes for 301 yards, and we came back all night. Our (running) backs were beat up. I have so much respect for our coaches and kids who didn't waiver. It's one of the best games I've ever been a part of.

"I'm exhausted, mentally, physically and emotionally."

He could have added, and ecstatic -- you could hear that in his voice, too.

"I've been a part of a lot of great games, and it's hard to rank them but this game has to be ranked in the Top 3," he said. "We had a freshman quarterback and two 99 1/2 yard drives. That's almost unbelievable."

The Tigers and Wasson -- exhausted and drained -- went crazy when KJ Armstrong, who hadn't scored a touchdown all year, broke free in the backfield, fought off the Wildcats, breaking a tackle at the line of scrimmage and then busted into the end with the 13-yard game-winner in overtime. It was his second touchdown run of the night and one he'll never forget.

The Tigers, who had not trailed in any of their four victories this season, had to come back five times, forging ties after being down 14-7, 21-14, 28-21, 35-28 -- and 38-35 in overtime.

And they did with their quarterback and top two running backs out of the game. Wasson said earlier this week that he hadn't decided what to do after losing Adrian Baston, a sophomore who burst into Tiger lore at quarterback this season -- a player with speed and savvy and confidence and maturity.

Baston, the kind of player who can make something out of nothing, left the Tigers scrambling for a new QB when he suffered a broken collarbone last week.

Enter the "Turtle."

That's what Lewis' friends call him. He debuted with a bigger surprise than the turtle that arrived at the finish line ahead of the hare. Freshmen just don't start in 5A programs, and if they do they sure don't throw for more than 300 yards and four touchdowns.

The Tigers needed every yard Friday. Not only was Baston out for the season, but Corsicana's No. 1 tailback, Anthony Young, was also out with an injury.

There's more: Dontay Thomas, a life-saving Swiss Army Knife who stars in the secondary, at quarterback and running back, started at quarterback but left the game early with an injury.

"Has anyone seen Turtle?"

Those words weren't scribbled on Wasson's game plan, but they were floating around in his very wise head, and when it looked like the Tigers were in a shootout, it was Hal who went to his newest weapon.

It worked in a wild and thrilling Homecoming game that puts the Tigers right back in the middle of the playoff hunt. They're 2-2 (5-2 overall) in the district race with three games left with a short week ahead of them (they play another crucial game on the road Thursday against North Forney). 

They'll be there after showing up just in time to beat a Sulphur Springs team that made some changes and didn't look anything like an 0-6 bunch at Community National Bank & Trust on Friday.

  Sulphur Springs was just about to get on the bus and head back to East Texas when Turtle, the alias Ja'Marion Lewis, threw into a stiff wind and connected with Conner Means for a 75-yard TD bomb with 1:03 left in the game to close the gap to 35-34.

Then -- just to make it interesting -- the Tigers were flagged for a false start  penalty on the PAT, and backed up five yards for Jovany Torres, whose timing on the biggest kick of the season could have been shattered when the ball sailed on a high snap. But Torres, who has been gold all year, nailed the kick and a 35-35 tie into the face of a stiff wind to send the game into overtime.

Once the Tigers got to OT their Jesus Mendoza-led defense stepped up after riding a tidal wave all night, rising with one brilliant play after another only to see the Wildcats come right back with quarterback Brady Driver, who threw four touchdown passes and ran for a fifth, responding with the best game of his life.

But the Tigers held the Cats on a third-and-three in OT when they stopped Driver for no gain and Urial Santacruz's 35-yard field goal provided only a temporary lead. 

Armstrong, who finished with 85 yards on 19 carries, gained all 25 yards on the Tigers' winning drive in overtime with a 12-yard burst and his 13-yard game winner.

His first touchdown of the year came with 10:29 left in the first quarter after Chris Degrate recovered a Sulphur Springs' fumble at the Wildcat 25 and that started the NASCAR race (that was the nickname for Sulphur Springs' 2008 state championship team that scored 69 points in the title game) as the game got exciting with both teams revving their engines up and down the field. 

Driver threw TD passes to Weston Fields (81 yards) and CJ Williams (nine yards) to take a 14-7 lead, but the Tigers marched 99 1/2 yards and scored when Lewis found Da Da Daniels with an eight-yard pass in the end zone, where Daniels made a breath-taking, one-handed (in fact he used his left hand) catch to help knot things at 14-14.

Driver came back with 2:03 left in the half with his third touchdown pass -- a tipped ball that Cole Silman caught and turned into a 42-yard score and a 21-14 lead.

Lewis and Means hooked up for a 50-yard catch-and-run on a beauty from the freshman and a sprint from the senior to catch the Cats at 21-21 as the swap meet continued in the third quarter.

It was 28-21 when Daniels made a "I refuse to be denied" 12-yard TD catch in a physical end zone play as Lewis went over the 200-yard mark with the completion. Daniels finished the night with 35 yards on five carries and a season-best 11 receptions for 141 yards and two touchdowns.

Driver, a sophomore, made it a 35-28 game with a 5-yard TD run to go along with his four touchdown passes, and it looked like the Tigers were done when they had to start their final comeback drive inside their 1-yard line for the second time. One problem: There was only 3:26 left in the game.

But they just zipped off to another 99 1/2 yard scoring drive -- the then drove right into overtime (just kidding, the Tigers faced a fourth-and-three at their own 8-yard line on that drive and Armstrong busted out with a game-saving run to the 20). Whew, it was like that all night!

"I couldn't be more proud of this team," Wasson said. "I can't say enough about their fight. We were talking earlier in the week and saying 'We're just trying to find a way to win a football game.'

"Well, by George! We found one."

Trending Video

Recommended for you