South Hagerstown fought to get into position for a shot at a game-winning field goal using its primary offensive threat as a decoy for most of the second half.
As the Rebels prepared to kick for the win, North Hagerstown kept backing itself up closer to its own goal line — and moving South closer to the goal posts — with encroachment penalties.
Backs to the wall, staring each other down with 38 seconds remaining in the game — perhaps in the season — something had to give.
Craig Coffin’s 19-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left, setting off an enormous celebration on the visitors’ side of the field at School Stadium as North walked away with a 14-12 victory over South.
“This game was destined for greatness from the get-go,” said North coach Dan Cunningham. “With the records of these teams coming in, so much on the line ... these were two immovable objects. I hate to say it’s a shame somebody had to lose, but that’s true tonight.”
The Hubs (9-1, 6-0) clinched the MVAL Antietam title, but more importantly, they assured themselves of at least one more game this season by qualifying for the Maryland Class 3A West playoffs. They’ll be the No. 3 seed and will play at Seneca Valley next weekend.
They nearly got none of those things. Holding that two-point lead and trying to run out the clock, the Hubs did something they hadn’t done in the first 46 minutes of the game: They turned the ball over.
Preston Carey ran for a 6-yard gain to the South 15 but was stripped of the ball. The Rebels (8-2, 4-2) recovered with 1:56 remaining and set out on their final drive of the game.
Brandon Jackson completed a pass to Willie Rivas for 7 yards, but overthrew his receivers on second and third downs.
South coach Toby Peer called Jackson to the sideline, emphatically telling his quarterback he needed to get a first down, not a touchdown.
He almost got both. Jackson hit Noah Wright just across the 25-yard line for a first down, but Wright wasn’t finished. He slipped one tackle to pick up five more yards, then jumped out of the grasp of another defender and was off to the races before finally being dragged down by North’s Tre Anderson after a 52-yard gain.
On first down from the North 26, Isiaha Smith gained a modest three yards. But the Rebels picked up 14 more on a personal-foul face masking penalty against the Hubs, pushing the ball to the North 12.
Jackson picked up three yards on first down, then threw incomplete twice, barely escaping pressure from Roland Renner on second down.
Peer sent Coffin — who hadn’t attempted a field goal this season — on to try a 26-yard field goal, but an encroachment penalty moved the ball up four yards, and another moved it two more yards to the North 3.
It seemed an ideal situation for the Rebels to hand off to Smith up the middle, their offensive bread-and-butter all season long. Earlier in the fourth quarter, he became the first Washington County player to top 2,000 rushing yards in a season.
But Smith left the game in the second quarter after aggravating a back injury suffered last week against Brunswick. He returned in the third quarter, but only carried seven times in the second half.
Instead, the ball was snapped to Wright, who set the ball for Coffin. He was kicking from the left hash with the wind at his back, but also blowing left.
The kick missed and North survived.