Odds are that Carl Vanlandingham will have many wonderful experiences over the course of his lifetime. No matter what happens, though, when the senior football player at Chaparral is old and gray he will likely remember the events of Friday night.
At halftime, Vanlandingham was named homecoming king. About an hour and a half later, Vanlandingham was being mobbed by teammates and fans as the Cowboys completed a remarkable comeback, against rival Eldorado no less.
Vanlandingham kicked a game-winning 27-yard field goal with 8.6 seconds remaining and host Chaparral rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit to beat the Sundevils 17-14 and retain the Merlin Olsen Cleat trophy.
And if all that weren’t enough, Vanlandingham did it while battling severe cramps in both legs.
“This is like the Super Bowl for us, and more,” Vanlandingham said. “I don’t even know how to describe it.”
Trailing 14-7 midway through the fourth quarter, Greg Tucker intercepted a pass for Chaparral (3-5, 2-3 Northeast League) near midfield and brought it all the way back to the Sundevils’ 12-yard line. A 15-yard penalty backed up Chaparral, but six plays later, quarterback Jermal Turner scored on a 1-yard plunge with 4:18 remaining. Vanlandingham booted the extra point to tie the score at 14-14.
On the ensuing kickoff, Edward Weist recovered Vanlandingham’s perfectly-placed pooch kick along the right sideline to give Chaparral possession at the Sundevils’ 40-yard line.
“We told our kids to be ready for it,” Eldorado coach Leon Evans said. “They did a good job recovering.”
As Vanlandingham was trying to stretch out his legs and overcome the cramps, Eldorado (4-4, 2-2) sacked Turner on first-and-goal from the 15. But Turner, making just his second start under center, hit wide receiver Devian Blow for a 10-yard gain and ran 4 yards up the middle to put the ball at the 10.
Following an Eldorado timeout, Vanlandingham split the uprights for a 17-14 Chaparral lead. The Sundevils got the ball back after Vanlandingham’s kickoff went out of bounds at the 50, but Leslie Hildreth’s final Hail Mary pass was knocked down by the Cowboys, setting off a wild celebration.
“I didn’t feel any pressure at all,” Vanlandingham said. “My coach told me to get ready for the game-winning field goal. I was ready for it. This is what we practice for.”
The Sundevils went up 7-0 when Tone Gatewood brought the opening kickoff back 85 yards for a touchdown and Gatewood added a 5-yard touchdown run with 43.7 seconds left in the second quarter to put Eldorado on top 14-0. That score was set up by a wild play on third-and-8 from the Chaparral 22.
Sundevils quarterback JaQuorrey Williams broke free from one defender and tossed a lateral to Gatewood just before enduring a huge hit. An official blew an inadvertent whistle, however, and by rule, Eldorado had the option to replay the down or take the result of the play, which was an 11-yard gain by Gatewood.
The play was costly for the Sundevils, though, as Williams suffered a separated throwing shoulder. Eldorado struggled to move the ball in the second half without him.
“Up 14-0 at halftime, we came out and thought we had to run the ball and run the clock out,” said Evans, whose team was limited to 25 yards in the second half and saw the Cowboys dominate time of possession. “My hat’s off to Chaparral.”
The Cowboys, who were led by Isaiah Washington’s 104 yards rushing, put together a 71-yard, 12-play march to open the third quarter. Washington had a key fourth-down conversion one play before Turner bolted 23 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-7 with 5:45 to go.
“We had three goals: playoffs, the cleat and homecoming. We accomplished two, now we have one more left,” Turner said. “We got a talking-to at halftime. We came out and our defense stepped up and our line did what it had to do and we came out with the victory. The defense and our line is the reason we won the game.”