He had suffered through 13 losses, taken a hundred ice baths, and absorbed even more hits over the last two years, all with the belief the moment would come.
And then on Saturday night, Maize junior running back Dalyn Johnson peered at the scoreboard and realized the moment had come.
Fourth-and-goal from the three. Maize had decided to go for it, leading Eisenhower, a team that played in the Class 5A semifinals last season, on the road by three with 2:23 remaining.
Score and seal the win. Fail and sweat out the final 90 seconds.
Johnson was met before the goal line, but kept his legs churning and fell into the end zone.
Maize defeated Eisenhower 45-35 behind Johnson’s six touchdowns and 257 rushing yards, improving to 2-0 after finishing last season with a 1-8 record.
“Maize football is back on the map,” shouted Johnson, echoing the beliefs of everyone in white and red on Saturday night.
Last season Maize would have crumbled after falling behind 14-0 after six minutes on the road when Eisenhower’s Evan Ellingson jumped a route and returned an interception 48 yards for a score.
Last season Maize would have had a difficult time recovering after Mason Madzey marched Eisenhower down the field and then scrambled in from 11 yards out to take a 27-24 lead with 5:47 remaining in the game.
But Johnson wouldn’t allow this season to be like last. He had gone through too much disappointment, too much frustration, too much losing to allow it to continue.
So the back they call “Day Day” went to work.
Following Madzey’s touchdown, Johnson immediately ripped off a 62-yard run to put Maize in scoring territory again. Two plays later, he was walking into the end zone for a 31-27 lead with 3:22 remaining.
“The kids showed me a lot tonight,” Maize coach Gary Guzman said. “We were down a few times and the kids kept bouncing back and they never gave up. That’s what you want to see. We expect them to battle, so it was good to see them do that.”
Eisenhower was put in a time crunch the next possession. Backed into a fourth-and-7 in its own territory, the Tigers felt inclined to go for it with 2:32 remaining.
In an obvious passing situation, Maize cornerback Colton Lumpkins jumped Madzey’s throw to the sideline and picked off the pass and returned it to the Eisenhower 4-yard line.
Eisenhower’s defense held Maize out for three straight plays to put them in a fourth-down decision.
But with Johnson running wild, Guzman said there was no decision to make. Give Johnson the ball.
Sure enough, Johnson scored and Maize scored the signature victory it needed to announce its return to prominence as a football team.
“I kept telling the guys in the huddle we need to connect right now,” Johnson said. “This is the difference between the good and great teams. If we don’t connect, then they could easily go down and score and win the game. So we had to right there.”
Madzey made things interesting on the next possession capitalizing on a miscommunication in Maize’s secondary to connect with Tanner King (four catches for 118 yards) on a 71-yard touchdown pass with 2:02 remaining.
But Eisenhower couldn’t recover the onside kick and another long Johnson run set up another Johnson touchdown, his sixth of the night, and the game-clincher with 1:30 left to put Maize ahead 45-35.
While Maize’s players jumped around in front of their student section and celebrated the victory all the way to the locker room, they made sure one thing was clear after the game.
This is the start. Not the end.
“We’ve got to keep thinking week to week,” Maize senior Hunter LaMunyon said. “We have to win the week every week. So far we’re 1-0 in two weeks. We have a 24-hour rule to enjoy it now, but come Monday we’re going to get right back to work and get ready for Derby.”
Maize 3 14 7 21 -- 45
Eisenhower 14 6 0 15 -- 35
E -- MacKinnon 13 run (Greening kick)
E -- Ellingson 48 interception return (Greening kick)
M -- Kingrey 26 field goal
M -- Johnson 16 run (Kingrey kick)
E -- King 4 pass from Madzey (kick failed)
M -- Johnson 40 run (Kingrey kick)
M -- Johnson 68 run (Kingrey kick)
E -- Madzey 11 run (Greening kick)
M -- Johnson 4 run (Kingrey kick)
E -- King 71 pass from Madzey (Madzey run)
M -- Johnson 3 run (Kingrey kick)
Rushing -- Maize, Johnson 27-257, Payne 8-53, Jurgensen 4-15, Payne 4-8, Love 2-2; Eisenhower, Loveland 21-91, Madzey 14-54, Wenzel 9-25, MacKinnon 2-14, Orand 1-8, Peppard 3-1, Roy 2-0, Trudo 1-(-10).
Passing -- Maize, Payne 7-22-2-47; Eisenhower, Madzey 7-15-2-146.
Receiving -- Maize, Love 4-39, Bird 2-5, Taylor 1-3; Eisenhower, King 4-118, Roy 1-11, McCool 1-9, MacKinnon 1-8.