MELISSA — In one of the greatest upsets in recorded Melissa Powder Puff history, a plucky crew of Sophomores topped the Seniors, 18-12, for the annual girls’ touch-football championship on Wednesday, May 23, at Cardinals Stadium.
A TD pass from Sophomore quarterback Savannah Rodriguez to Ashley Gideon with 30 seconds left to play spelled the difference. Gideon, in fact, collected all three Sophomore touchdown passes — then picked off the Seniors’ last-gasp deep ball to seal the win.
“We just wanted to prove a point,” Sophs co-head coach Brendon Lewis said. “We wanted to show the Seniors who’s boss. I knew we could do it. I just had to get the girls believing they could do it — and they did it.” Lewis noted the Sophomores’ new motto, with one championship already in hand: “Three-peat, all the way.”
Assisting Lewis on the sidelines were fellow co-head coaches Ja’Bray Young and Braylon Ramsey. “I think we had the best coaching staff out there,” Lewis said. “We were just the best.”
Said Senior co-head coach Cole McCraw: “We threw a couple of interceptions, had a couple of bad plays. We’re the better team. You know, it happens.” Joining McCraw as Senior co-head coaches were Tate Whittington and Marvin Jordan. (Jordan, perhaps sensing a collapse, had moved to the press box to assist with play-by-play and was not on the field for this one.)
Before claiming the title, the Sophs survived a double-overtime thriller versus the Juniors — a contest ultimately decided by “rock-paper-scissors.” The Seniors reached the finals by thumping the Freshmen, 24-12, in the day’s first contest.
The games were played in a sweltering 94 degrees on a narrow 50-yard turf field with 15-minute running-clock halves. Halft-imes ranged from one to two minutes, depending on … whatever.
Senior play-by-play announcers Jacob “Homer” Gallimore and Justin “Homer” Berkeland offered up loads of snide snarkiness from the press box, often targeting revered long-time Powder Puff referee Travis Roberson — better known as Melissa’s long-time defensive coordinator. Before the games, while preparing for their gig over donuts and pigs-in-a-blanket from Duke Sparks’ refrigerated press-box stash, Berkeland and Gallimore — both state silver-medal thespians — offered keen insights.
“Seniors are expected to win, usually,” Gallimore said. “But last year, this Senior class beat [last year’s] Seniors by a lot. So they’re defending their title now.”
“By all means,” Berkeland said, “we do not expect an upset of the Senior team. But who knows?”
What about Roberson’s rumored lack of objectivity?
“I think he’s actually supposed to help the Seniors win in most cases,” Gallimore revealed. “So if it gets close to the end of the game, I think he’ll be throwing more flags in their favor.”
That prophesy did not pan out.
In the title game, the Sophomores jumped to a 6-0 lead on Rodriguez’ short touchdown toss to Gideon with 6:30 left in the first half. Senior quarterback Ryleigh Dunnahoe fired back two minutes later with a short scoring strike to Taylor Carney. It was Senior Joy Sparks’ interception that ended the Sophs’ final threat before half-time and the teams hit the break tied at six.
The Seniors opened the second stanza with a long ball to Carney and one play later Dunnahoe quarterback-sneaked in for a 12-6 Seniors lead. After a personal foul call on Natalia Cox for taking down Gideon, Gideon gathered in a tying TD in the left-front corner of the end zone with eight minutes left.
As the clock ticked below four minutes, the Seniors looked poised to win after Dunnahoe’s bomb to Verah Banasky down near the Sophomore goal line. But in a play that will live on (in someone’s phone) forever, Rodgriguez stepped in front of Dunnahoe’s next pass and the Sophs had life with three minutes left. A long toss to Mya Ellis went to the Seniors’ 5-yard-line and the stage was set for Gideon’s game-winner in the left flat.
“Honestly, I was just trying to get open, get somewhere where I’d get the ball,” Gideon said. “It worked so it was exciting.” And her dagger interception to close it out? “That was crazy,” she said. “I was really hoping I was going to catch that.”
“It’s not like the Seniors can run us over now,” Rodriguez said. “We got this.”
She attributed her often-perfect spirals to growing up playing football with her two older brothers.
Noteworthy note: Having endured one overtime game in the cruel heat already, when the championship contest appeared destined for the same, Roberson had a plan. “I was going to make a call where there wouldn’t be another overtime,” he said. Roberson added that he wasn’t fazed by the thespian abuse raining down from the press box. “That’s just noise from the crowd,” he said. “As a professional referee, you’ve got to kind of tune that out.”
Roberson’s crew this day included coaches Matt Spann and Travis Pickup. “Awesome guys, awesome referees,” Roberson said. In addition, Roberson’s young son Kye handled end zone officiating.
“I feel like they just had very good athletes,” Sparks said of the Sophs, “but we’re much better. It was just one of those games.”
Seniors 24, Freshmen 12
Senior Banasky and Freshman Kadyn King opened this match with an interception apiece. The Seniors then blew to an 18-0 lead on Dunnahoe TD strikes to Banasky, Cox and Lilly Hubbard and, with three minutes left in the first half, the Freshmen looked adrift without a paddle. But a personal-foul call on Hubbard with 90 seconds left in the stanza seemed to settle the ninth graders as Freshman Mallorie Power soon picked off a pass for a TD as time expired. Some questioned whether the horn had blown before the play began but replay was not readily available.
Tough breaks for the Seniors continued in the second half as Cox appeared to have picked off a pass, battling Paityn Garlington to the ground for it — but the call went to the Freshmen. One play later, with three minutes left, shock waves coursed through the crowd as the upstart Freshmen drew to within 18-12 on a Katie Sparks-to-King touchdown pass.
As the gravity of perhaps losing to freshmen sunk in, Senior QB Dunnahoe dropped back and Joe-Montana’d one deep to Banasky at the Freshmen goal line. Cox’s ensuing 1-yard TD catch with 10 seconds left ensured this potential calamity would not stand.
Asked to comment afterward on his perceived pro-Freshmen bias, Roberson said simply, “I call it like I see it.”
“The refs were being hard on us,” Whittington assured. “We had to work through some adversity but we got the ‘dub’. … We pushed them to the limit [in practice] and it showed today on the field. We weren’t going to lose. I had no doubt in my team.”
Freshmen head coach Bryce Martin promptly threw his squad under the bus.
“I think it was really a lack of effort in practice. We worked on the drills, they just didn’t do what they were supposed to do, fundamentally.” Martin claimed to have worked his Freshmen hard at practice too. “Honestly, I did,” he said. “But some of them just did not want the work. It happens sometimes.”
Sophomores ‘scissors’, Juniors ‘paper’
This double-OT instant-classic was finally decided by “rock-paper-scissors,” as Sophomore strategist Kaitlyn Ward ended it with “rock” then a “scissors” near midfield. Roberson had divined the plan to quickly end this possibly endless contest. His idea for the first OT — giving each team one play to score from the 5-yard-line — had proven fruitless as both squads easily pumped out another TD. “Rock-paper-scissors” did the trick.
In the first half, a Reagan Eichel interception got the Juniors going. Quarterback Anna Fortenberry soon found Brittany Morgan open in the end zone and, after a bobble, she held on for a touchdown and a 6-0 Juniors advantage. There the score remained until the second frame.
Rodriguez got the Sophs on the board after the break with a touchdown strike to Kayton Flowers and, with 6:30 left to play, the game was tied, 6-6. Fortenberry’s 30-yard bomb to Alexis Pevehouse went to the Sophs’ 1 with three minutes remaining and on the next play Pevehouse gathered in a TD pass in the left-back corner of end zone and the Juniors’ led, 12-6.
But Rodriguez-to-Gideon was just getting warm-up. A flawless spiral to Gideon put the ball on the Juniors’ 1-yard-line with under a minute left. Rodriguez then rolled right and found Brianna McGee open in the end zone for a 12-12 tie with 30 seconds left in regulation.
In the first overtime, Rodriguez went to McGee again for a touchdown and the Sophomores were one defensive stop away from victory. Fortenberry, though, again found her softball teammate Pevehouse for a TD to knot it at 18-18. The rest is hand-game history.
Allie Graham and Kylee Brakebill also posted interceptions for the Juniors.
“The refs were terrible,” Junior co-head coach Junior Castleberry concluded, directing most of his ire at Coach Spann for a call he’d made on a crucial Sophs touchdown. “We thought he was cool,” Castleberry said. “He’s fake.” Other Junior co-head coaches Kennedy Lewis, whistle-bearer RJ Morning and Jaeden Foster appeared to agree with Castleberry’s harsh assessment.