For the sixth time on the night, a Goddard defender raised the ball high above his head as a trophy, eliciting roars from the Goddard sideline.
But on this final time, when safety Ian McSwain broke before the ball was released from the hand of Bishop Carroll quarterback Braden Howell and swooped in for interception No. 6, the roar was like none other when McSwain held the ball high above his head on Friday night in Goddard.
It would seem so improbable just a few years ago for Goddard to defeat Bishop Carroll in the playoffs.
Who would have thought Goddard would intercept Howell more times in one game (six) than he had thrown all season (five)?
But there was McSwain late on Friday evening, ball held high above his head, a 20-12 victory over Carroll finalized, welcoming Goddard to this new reality. Goddard continues on in the Class 5A playoffs, set to face top-seeded Heights in the quarterfinals next Friday.
“It felt amazing, unbelievable,” McSwain said. “It’s undescribable, actually. I don’t really have the words.”
Teammate Kody Gonzalez, the team’s starting tailback who scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, helped fill in those words.
“We have the No. 1 defense in the state,” Gonzalez said.
Carroll’s defense had supposedly taken a step back this season, but on Friday night they looked the part.
Goddard had to punt on its first six offensive possessions with its lone touchdown coming on a 100-yard interception return by Dayton Driskill with 5:04 remaining in the second quarter.
There was no doubt Carroll was moving the ball better than Goddard throughout the game, but there was also no doubt Goddard’s defense rose to the challenge every time Carroll neared the end zone.
Some interceptions were when Howell tried to force tight throws into double-coverage, but other interceptions came on tremendous defensive plays, like the one McSwain made on the goal-lind stand to close the game.
“It would have been a shame to not win a game like this for as well as our defense played all night,” Goddard coach Scott Vang said. “They played outstanding.”
Despite four first-half interceptions, Howell kept gunning in the second half.
After connecting on a 61-yard touchdown pass to Joseph Robben just before halftime, Howell responded to his fourth interception by finding Robben again on a slant pattern over the middle for a 31-yard touchdown and a 12-7 lead with 2:24 remaining in the third quarter.
Even though Goddard’s defense was coming up with multiple momentum-shifting plays, its offense was failing to capitalize. The Lions had less than 150 yards of offense through three quarters.
“We just had to keep pounding it and eventually something was going to bust open,” Gonzalez said. “Oh man, it was so frustrating. Give credit to their defense, but our line stuck with it and we were able to finish the game running the ball.”
Goddard’s offense finally found its spark midway through the fourth quarter, as Sullivan broke off a 35-yard keeper down to the Carroll 4-yard line and then Gonzalez waltzed into the end zone for a 13-12 lead with 5:01 left in the game.
On Carroll’s first play following the score, Howell was intercepted for the fifth time. A few plays later, Goddard added to its lead on a Gonzalez 7-yard touchdown run for a 20-12 lead with 2:38 remaining.
But Howell was resilient, driving Carroll over 50 yards with under two minutes remaining to give his team one final chance for a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie the score.
With eight seconds remaining and Carroll on the Goddard 11-yard line, Howell tried to fit a pass into the end zone on an out route. But McSwain read it the entire way.
“I really think this defense is the best defense in the state,” said McSwain, who finished with two interceptions. “Definitely one of the best. You can always count on these guys. They’re my brothers and I love them.”
G—Driskill 100 interception return (Cole kick)
BC—Robben 61 pass from Howell (kick failed)
BC—Robben 31 pass from Howell (pass failed)
G—Ko. Gonzalez 4 run (run failed)
G—Ko. Gonzalez 7 run (Cole kick)
Rushing—Carroll: Theis 18-83, Howell 14-39, Holthusen 1-1; Goddard: Ko. Gonzalez 23-128, Sullivan 21-127, Driskill 1-9.
Passing—Carroll, Howell 18-35-6-236, Theis 0-1-0-0; Goddard: Sullivan 3-13-0-36.
Receiving—Carroll, Robben 6-124, Helten 4-50, Nichols 3-30, Theis 3-17, Winter 2-15; Goddard: Beason 1-21, B. Mocaby 1-11, J. Cooke 1-4.