Discovery Canyon coach Shawn Mitchell didn’t have more than a few minutes to plan his final postgame address of the season, not that any amount of time would’ve made it any easier.
Mitchell’s No. 3 Thunder were bounced in the Class 3A football quarterfinals in heartbreaking fashion Saturday when No. 6 Frederick improbably scored the go-ahead touchdown in the final seconds of a 32-25 victory at Hatchell Field at Academy District 20 Stadium.
Facing a 3rd and 15 with less than 30 seconds to play in a tie game, the Warriors called a timeout. The Thunder had a feeling Frederick wouldn’t go quietly into overtime despite the ball being on the Warriors’ 23-yard line.
“I was ready for some sort of trickery,” Mitchell said. “We were talking about potentially a screen or some kind of hook and lateral or their quarterback is so dangerous we were thinking draw, too. Rather than let our guard down, I gave our guys an alert about what we were expecting from them.”
With the Thunder in man coverage, Frederick quarterback Jake Green rolled to his left, stopped just before being hit and heaved a hopeful pass down the Discovery Canyon sideline. Blake Duran adjusted to the slightly underthrown ball, shook off a Thunder tackler and won a 50-yard race to the end zone, crossing the goal line with 8.4 seconds left.
“I thought our guys played it pretty well, but we just got ourselves out here a little turned around,” Mitchell said.
After the extra point, kickoff and two incomplete passes, the dejected Thunder were shaking hands with the jubilant Warriors before heading to the north end zone where Mitchell did his best to tell his team he was proud of what they accomplished, most notably a 3A Central League title after beating Palmer Ridge, despite an ending they would like to forget.
“It’s just one of the worst things that happens, especially your senior year, especially in a game like that,” quarterback Jonah Isakson said. “At points, I definitely thought we had that won and it just comes back to bite you.”
Frederick led 17-15 at the half behind two touchdown passes from Green to Brandon Hornby and a 47-yard field goal from Luke Dunker that bounced off the crossbar and over. Discovery Canyon led early behind a couple of Marshall Pike touchdown runs.
The Thunder regained the lead in the third on a short field goal from Connor Clancy and increased it to eight with Pike’s third rushing touchdown of the day early in the fourth. Pike would sack Green on the next drive, getting the Thunder offense the ball back, and also had a blocked field goal in the first half.
“He’s a workhorse,” Mitchell said. “We hand him the ball sometimes 30 or more times in a game. Later in the season, we thought he could help us out as a defensive player, and he’s been in a couple different defensive positions. He had some success here at defensive end because he’s just so strong and he’s such a good athlete.”
The Thunder later appeared to put the game away when Kenneth Pasion took a toss around the right side for a long touchdown, but a holding flag brought the play back. Frederick eventually took over on downs with roughly five minutes to play after a failed fourth-and-one run. Green capped the ensuing drive with a short touchdown carry, and Dom Schleif muscled in the tying two-point conversion.
Discovery Canyon got the ball with 2:46 to play but punted it back to Frederick with 62 seconds remaining before the Thunder season, and some football careers, ended.
“It’s insane,” Isakson said, fighting off emotion. “I’ve been playing tackle football with these boys a lot of them since third or fourth grade. Growing up together, balled together forever, it’s just so much love towards those boys.”
Tears were hard to avoid as Discovery Canyon players exited the field.
“Absolutely it does come to an unfortunate end,” Mitchell said. “We end up 10-2 and you know, we brought that league championship back home and I’m proud of them for that. We talked early in the season about making a playoff run, and we always want to go deeper, you know. There’s nothing good to say at the end of this, right? It doesn’t matter now. None of that matters. The only thing that matters right now is we’re putting our stuff away.”