Five minutes before Bishop Carroll was to take the field at Northwest for a highly-anticipated season-opener, coach Dusty Trail checked his watch and wondered why the locker room was silent.
“I was thinking in my head, ‘Okay, Alan should be rounding them up right now,’” Trail said.
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Carroll played its first game in 22 years without Schuckman as the head coach on the sideline on Thursday. Trail had been with Schuckman for all 22 of those seasons and was so accustomed to Schuckman delivering the pre-game speech, he nearly waited too late to give his first one.
But Thursday was more about maintaining a dynasty than building something new, and Carroll did just that with last-second victory, 40-35, over Northwest to give Trail his first coaching victory.
“It still really hasn’t hit me yet,” Trail said. “I’m still thinking about what else needs to be, when we’re going to practice (Friday), making sure to get the uniforms washed. But wow, what a game. That’s a pretty cool way to win your first game.”
The two programs have produced an annual thriller and this year’s version was no different, as the teams combined for 75 points, 11 touchdowns and more than 800 yards of offense.
Each team had a breakout performance in its running game, as Desmond Smith (two touchdowns), finally healthy after suffering a season-ending injury the last two seasons, breathed life into Carroll’s running game, and the duo of Breece Hall (two touchdowns) and Roy Johnson (kick return touchdown) look like the next great 1-2 punch for Northwest.
But it was Smith who provided the final highlight, bouncing a handoff out left, making Northwest’s contain miss and bowling his way into the end zone with 14 seconds remaining for the go-ahead touchdown with Carroll trailing 35-34.
It was a long wait for Smith to make an impact on Friday nights, but it was worth it.
“I was so ready to play and make a name for myself,” said Smith, who rushed for more than 100 yards in his debut. “This was way better than I could have ever imagined. It will probably sink in later tonight when I’m laying in bed or tomorrow when I’m watching it on film. This is just really exciting.”
The loss was a gut punch to Northwest, which led 14-0 and was encouraged by a defense that forced a turnover or a punt in Carroll’s first four drives.
The Grizzlies can look back at lost momentum midway through the third quarter when the offense was a yard away from a 14-point lead, but a fumble by Hall cost them a chance at adding to the lead. Northwest’s defense was flagged for pass interference on third or fourth down three times in the second half, which helped extend Carroll drives that appeared lost.
“We just couldn’t get off the field on third down,” Northwest coach Steve Martin said. “There was one drive there where we had two pass interference calls and gave them new life. We can’t do that and we especially can’t do that against a quality team like Carroll. We just made too many mistakes tonight.”
Meanwhile, Carroll was able to dig out of a 14-point hole and keep pace with Northwest’s offense thanks to the elevated play of quarterback Braden Howell, who accounted for nearly 400 yards of total offense.
Howell connected on a pair of 50-plus-yard touchdown passes to Carlos Davis and Thomas Helten, then scored on a pair of rushing touchdowns. But his finest play of the game came on 3rd-and-9 midway through the fourth quarter. Howell scrambled out of the pocket and then with a linebacker crashing down, spun and sent the defender flying past him as he barreled his way to the first down.
Four minutes later, Smith scampered in for the winning score.
“Braden took a huge, huge step in his leadership of the offense tonight,” Trail said. “He took control of the situation and I’ve never seen him do the things he did on the field tonight. He was so confident in what he was doing and I think tonight is just a big step in his career as a quarterback. I always knew he had the ability and talent, but he put it all together for us tonight.”
It was the second straight year a team has jumped out to a 14-0 lead only to lose the game.
Martin wasn’t worried about the loss afater the game.
“This was a great game between two great football teams,” Martin said. “Both of these teams are going to be playing for a long time in November. The sun will come out tomorrow for us and we’ll get back to work and prepare for a very good Heights team next week.”
But for Carroll, it was sweet revenge after Northwest had scored two straight wins in a row in the rivalry.
“We had to get that taste of defeat out of our mouths,” Howell said. “This feels pretty good.”