Annandale junior defensive back Andrew Lewis just wanted to hold on.
Twenty seconds remained with Lee on the Annandale 2-yard-line and the Lancers down seven last night in Springfield in a matchup of top AAA Patriot District teams. Lee senior quarterback Greg Jones took the snap, ran to the outside and was hit three yards in the backfield near the sideline by a nucleus of Atoms tacklers, including Lewis.
Annandale tackled the churning Jones, who was ruled inbounds, and time expired. With the win, Annandale (7-2, 7-0) clinched the Patriot District title and this season's first automatic berth in the Division 6 Northern Region playoffs. The Atoms reached the postseason for the first time since 1994, their undefeated state championship season.
"I was just thinking we had to do something to win," Lewis said. "We were trying so hard. Our players, our coaches everybody. I don't even know what was going through my mind. I just knew we had to win. I was grabbing on to him and holding him and just knew I couldn't let go."
Annandale's last-second defensive stand was preceded by an impressive fourth-quarter offensive effort from the Atoms junior quarterback Nate Cartagena. Cartagena rushed for 68 yards on five carries in the quarter, including a 37-yard game-winning touchdown run where he broke through the middle of the field and cut to the outside, outrunning Lee defenders to the right corner of the end zone.
After the game, Annandale Coach Dick Adams put his arm around his quarterback as soon as the pair had finished leading the band, the players and Annandale's fans in a rendition of the school fight song.
"This character is just Annandale football," said Adams, in his 16th season, of Cartagena. "He plays the way it was for us in the '60s, the '70s and the '90s.
Said Cartagena: "Coach always tells us, 'Poise gentlemen.' I just try to keep my poise. [On the touchdown] everybody fired off the ball. I just saw the hole and blew through it."
The loss was a heartbreaker for the Lancers (5-4, 4-2), who were stopped inside the 5-yard line with the chance for the winning or tying touchdown for the second consecutive week. After Lee gave up a seven-point fourth quarter lead, Jones led the Lancers from their 39-yard line to the 2 following Cartagena's score. Jones escaped the grasp of numerous Annandale tacklers with less than a minute remaining on a 13-yard run that brought the ball to the Annandale 2.
"It was just two good football teams refusing to lose the game," Lee Coach Chad Lewis said. "Neither team was going to quit, and both teams knew that."
Adams, who received a water cooler dousing at the end of the game, agreed.
"It was just an incredible battle," he said.