The Maize players were scattered around the 30-yard-line of their football field Friday night. Several hugged, tears streaking down their faces.
Others just sat silently, staring off at nothing. Stunned. Disbelieving.
Maize’s season ended dramatically when Manhattan went for a surprise two-point conversion on a rarely-used swinging gate play, scoring to win 60-59 in five overtimes in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs.
Maize coach Gary Guzman quietly talked about the game, about how the Eagles (7-3) had lost a 17-point fourth-quarter lead and had given up an onside kick.
“They went for two and got it done. With a swinging gate. A swinging gate,” Guzman said. “We know all about the swinging gate. We run the swinging gate. But it’s one of those things you put in so other teams can work on it, and most of the time you just line up and end up kicking the ball. They took a chance and paid off.”
Manhattan (8-2) got within one point on Henry Beiber’s three-yard run in the fifth overtime. The Indians lined up to the left for the point-after attempt, just as it does every time.
The kicker and the holder stationed in the middle of the field, ready to kick. But the play never came their way as Bieber took the snap and ran left, surprising the Maize defense.
Maize senior Nick Benford’s eyes were nearly the color of his hot-pink mohawk, roughed up from crying. He shook his head.
“It’s the worst feeling I’ve ever had in my life,” he said. “It feels crappy all over.”
Maize junior quarterback Connor Lungwitz, who had six passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown, finally took his helmet off after most of his teammates had headed to the locker room. He ran his hand through his freshly bleached mohawk, which had been cut and dyed to honor injured teammate Elijah West.
“I don’t know how we can work that hard all season and in one play, it’s all over,” Lungwitz said. “It’s shell-shocking.”
Lungwitz completed 27 of 41 passes for 310 yards. Kendall Stewart had 165 receiving yards and Kaven Jobe 103.
Maize’s utter disbelief had more to do than the final play. The Eagles, tied at 7-all late in the second quarter, had gotten a go-ahead touchdown on Lungwitz’s 24-yard pass play to Kaven Jobe with 15.1 seconds to go in the half.
The Eagles added 10 more points in the third quarter, and two plays into the fourth quarter, Manhattan appeared to concede. The Indians went for it on fourth-and-4 at their own 26 and turned it over on downs.
Maize quickly drove to the 2, but running back Chase White, who had been the focus of Manhattan’s defense all game, fumbled at the 1. White finished with 21 carries for 45 yards.
Although Manhattan didn’t score on the ensuing possession, it was a major turning point compounded by Maize penalties and mistakes.
After giving up an 11-yard touchdown run to Kellen Myers with 6:24 to go following a pass interference call on Maize, the Eagles failed to recover the onside kick.
Manhattan used a personal foul call on Maize to get to the 19 and capped the four-play drive with a 12-yard run by Myers to get within 24-21.
With the score tied at 24-all after Manhattan scored 17 points in less than five minutes, Lungwitz ended a last ditch attempt to retake the lead by throwing his second interception.
“I don’t know what to say at this point,” Guzman said. “Obviously we’re disappointed. We had our chances. A 17-point lead, get down to the 1-yard line and we had a chance for a touchdown, and we fumbled it. We give up that onside kick and some stupid penalties, some personal fouls. A number of things kind of went against us, and you can’t do that. Momentum shifted, they had the wind.”
In overtime, Maize scored first as Lungwitz connected with Jobe on the first of four overtime touchdown passes between the two.
“I got with him on the sideline, told him it was our time to go,” Lungwitz said. “I got all our wide receivers and told our offensive line we needed to make something happen every time because we never know what’s going to happen.
“We did, and we answered every time.”
The tension was high as each team had to answer a touchdown. Would the game come down to the point-after kicks? But each time Manhattan junior Joseph Trujillo and Maize sophomore Alan Sanchez kicked it through the uprights.
Except for the last point after. Trujillo wasn’t needed.
The swinging gate. Season over.
“The game was just going on and on,” Manhattan coach Joe Schartz said. “We practice that play every day at practice. It was time to use it, and the kids executed.”
The scoreboard read the final score long after the Maize players left for the locker room to be console each other and listen to Guzman’s game-ending season-ending speech.
What would he say?
He didn’t know.
Maize — Lungwitz 1 run (Sanchez kick)
Manhattan — Fabrizius 9 run (Trujillo kick)
Maize — Jobe 24 pass from Lungwitz (Sanchez kick)
Maize — Sanchez 20 FG
Maize — Stewart 28 pass from Lungwitz (Sanchez kick)
Manhattan — Myers 11 run (Trujillo kick)
Manhattan — Myers 12 run (Trujillo kick)
Manhattan — Trujillo 27 FG
Maize — Jobe 8 pass from Lungwitz (Sanchez kick)
Manhattan — Fabrizius 10 run (Trujillo kick)
Manhattan — Cook 7 pass from Myers (Trujillo kick)
Maize — White 1 run (Sanchez kick)
Maize — Jobe 15 pass from Lungwitz (Sanchez kick)
Manhattan — Fabrizius 1 run (Trujillo kick)
Manhattan — Fabrizius 3 run (Trujillo kick)
Maize — Jobe 5 pass from Lungwitz (Sanchez kick)
Maize — Jobe 8 pass from Lungwitz (Sanchez kick)
Manhttan — Bieber 3 run (Bieber run)