MELISSA – Trinity Christian’s unbeaten Tigers were down to their last gasps on Thursday, trailing Melissa, 19-18, from their own 7-yard-line with 50 seconds left and no timeouts. But on first down, Tigers quarterback Shedeur Sanders stunned the Cardinals’ Homecoming crowd with a 92-yard catch-and-run dagger to Dwight McGlothern, deep over the middle. Kennedy Lewis gave valiant chase, stopping McGlothern at Melissa’s 1, but a play later Sanders punched into the end zone for his third rushing touchdown of the game. Sanders came back to McGlothern for a 2-point conversion and the defending TAPPS Division II state champs led, 26-19, with 31 seconds remaining.
Melissa’s hopes would end on the game’s final play when Brendon Lewis’ deep ball down the right side to Kennedy Lewis in traffic just missed.
“We noticed that the safety was up,” Tigers offensive coordinator Deion Sanders said of his son’s decisive toss to McGlothern. “So we put Dwight in the slot, hoping they would give us what they had given us the whole night. We just wanted him to cross the space. And instead of Shedeur putting the air up under it, he put it on a line, man. It was a great throw, a great route. … We fought, they fought. [Melissa’s] a good, well-coached team. It really is. It was tough but we persevered.”
“I’m proud of our kids,” Cards head coach Seth Stinton said. “I thought they fought hard and played extremely physical. We knew it was going to be that way. That’s a great football team - defending state champs - and there’s a lot of D-I football players over there. … We fought back and forth, up and down. You can’t say enough about it.”
The contest started an hour and 40 minutes late due to lightning — Melissa’s second lengthy pregame delay in three weeks - and rain continued into the second half.
The Cards (3-1) had chances for more points this night but three drives stalled inside Trinity Christian’s 12-yard-line with nothing to show for them. “Possessions have to count,” Stinton said. “Those are important things so we’ve got to make sure we take advantage of those when we have them.” He added, “The game’s never over. There are 50 seconds there and they score a touchdown. … Kudos to them.”
Also hampering Melissa’s cause were three turnovers, including two interceptions - one picked at the Tigers’ 9. Plenty of yellow flags flew as well as the teams recorded nine penalized infractions each – and one Trinity Christian player was ejected in the first half.
The Cards seemed in control late after Brendon Lewis found Junior Castleberry over the middle for a 43-yard touchdown - and Melissa’s 19-18 lead - and Ja’Bray Young ended the Tigers’ next possession with a 4th-down quarterback sack. As the Cards took over on their own 45 with 3:08 to go, Trinity Christian had no timeouts and one more first down would have likely ended the contest. But three rushes netted zero yards and Melissa punted to the Tigers’ 7. From there, Trinity Christian’s shocker was a play away.
Young led the Cards with a game-best 174 yards rushing on 25 carries and Brendon Lewis hit on 10 of 21 passes for 92 yards and two touchdowns. Lewis also logged 88 yards on the ground. Kennedy Lewis’ three catches for 57 yards were tops among Melissa receivers while defensive end Collin O’Neal and linebacker Braylon Brown led Cardinal tacklers with 14 stops apiece. Defensive tackle Braylon Ramsey was next with 11 tackles. Both O’Neal and Brown posted two tackles for a loss with a quarterback sack each.
For the Tigers, McGlothern finished with six grabs for a game-high 174 yards and Ja’Marvin Hartfield led with 83 yards rushing. Sanders completed 17 of 28 throws for 268 yards with one pick.
Trinity Christian struck first with an 89-yard, 10-play drive late in the first quarter, a push sparked by Qualan Jones’ 34-yard jaunt and a 23-yard burst from Marques Buford. Then, from Melissa’s 5, Sanders skirted the right side of his line for a touchdown. Linebacker Connor Newberry stuffed the 2-point-conversion run attempt.
The Cards’ ensuing drive stalled at the Trinity Christian 5 on 4th-and-1 after a bobbled snap. The teams traded punts before Melissa came up with a potentially game-changing play: O’Neal blocked the Tigers’ next punt and linebacker Javier Collins fell on the ball at the Trinity Christian 21. But after a 10-yard block-in-the-back penalty, Brendon Lewis’ pass to Tyler Burton was picked off inside the 10.
The Cards forced a three-and-out and got the ball back at midfield with less than 30 seconds left in the half. On first down, Kennedy Lewis laid out for a 39-yard catch to the 11 and, after a Melissa timeout, Brendon Lewis threw left to Burton for seven yards with 1 second still on the clock. Lewis then found Burton for a 4-yard touchdown in the right flat and, after a failed PAT kick, the teams hit halftime knotted 6-all.
After the break, Melissa took its first lead of the game when Chance Mapps capped a 59-yard drive with his 7-yard scoring scamper. Trinity Christian answered with a march to the Cards’ 4 where the drive appeared thwarted. First, O’Neal’s big 11-yard sack of Sanders moved the ball back to the 15 then, on 3rd-and-goal, BJ Lewis broke up a pass in the end zone. Lewis, though, was late-whistled for a questionable pass interference call and the Tigers had new life. On the next play, Sanders ran it in to tie the score again, 12-12. BJ Lewis batted away the 2-point conversion pass attempt.
Trinity Christian regained the lead, 18-12, on Sanders’ early-fourth-quarter, 29-yard strike to McGlothern. Brown’s sack of Sanders blew up that 2-point try. After Lewis Cine’s interception ended Melissa’s next drive, Kennedy Lewis returned the favor with a pick near midfield. On the Cards’ next play from scrimmage, Young hit the line and seemed to break free when the ball popped loose and was kicked downfield a good 20 yards before the Tigers pounced on it at their own 14.
After a Trinity Christian 3-and-out, Melissa was in business at the Tiger 43 with under five minutes left. That’s when Brendon Lewis lofted the TD spiral to Castleberry who’d gotten behind his defender and went the distance. “I was telling Coach I was open and he called it for me,” Castleberry said. “[Brendon] threw a good pass where the defense couldn’t catch it - only I could.” Hayden Ferguson’s point-after kick had the Cards up, 19-18.
“The energy was just crazy,” O’Neal said of the contest. “Everyone was playing at a top level. We were getting stop after stop and it felt so good. We had a great student section. [McGlothern’s catch] was a tough last play. It’s bittersweet but I’m so proud of my defense and how we played tonight.” As for going through this disappointing experience, O’Neal said, “I definitely think it humbles us. We know where we stand and we know what we have to work on. We’re just going to have a great week of practice and from here on out we’re going to be playing at another level.”
“We played good,” Castleberry said. “Our defense was stopping them. Our offense couldn’t get it going like we’re used to but we scored when we needed to. We’ll bounce back.”
Melissa opens district play on Sept. 28 at Paris. Said Stinton, “We talk about adversity - we’re under a little bit of adversity now. All the games really, really matter now, with district opponents next week. So we’ve got to go back to work and try to prepare and be ready to play.”
Trinity Christian 26, Melissa 19
Trinity Christian 6 0 6 14 - 26
Melissa 0 6 6 7 - 19
TC - Shedeur Sanders 5 run (run failed), 1:39
M - Tyler Burton 4 pass from Brendon Lewis (kick failed), 0:00
M- Chance Mapps 7 run (kick failed), 7:54
TC - Shedeur Sanders 5 run, (pass failed), 4:48
TC - Dwight McGlothern 29 pass from Shedeur Sanders (run failed)
M – Junior Castleberry 43 pass Brendon Lewis (Hayden Ferguson kick), 4:38
TC – Shedeur Sanders 1 run (Dwight McGlothern pass from Shedeur Sanders), 0:31
Stats Trinity Christian Melissa
First downs 17 16
Rushes-yards 37-141 42-291
Passing yards 268 92
C-A-I 17-28-1 10-21-2
Punts-average 5-19.8 5-32.8
Penalties-yards 9-75 9-64
Fumbles-lost 1-0 2-1
Rushing - Trinity Christian: Ja’Marvin Hartfield 19-83, Marques Buford 5-45, Qualan Jones 7-12, Shedeur Sanders 6-1; Melissa: Ja’Bray Young 25-174, Brendon Lewis 11-88, Chance Mapps 6-29.
Passing - Trinity Christian: Shedeur Sanders 17-28-1-268; Melissa: Brendon Lewis 10-21-2-92.
Receiving - Trinity Christian: Dwight McGlothern 6-174, Ja’Marvin Hartfield 4-22, Marques Buford 2-30, Qualan Jones 4-13, Shilo Sanders 1-9; Melissa: Kennedy Lewis 3-57, Junior Castleberry 1-43, Chase Mapps 2-25, Tyler Burton 4-11, Ja’Bray Young 1-(-1).