Herald-Whig

Crosstown showdown can be beautifully chaotic

Quincy High running back Jirehl Brock is surrounded by a quartet of Quincy Notre Dame defenders during their game Friday, Oct. 20, 2017, at Flinn Stadium. Brock escaped the defenders. | H-W Photo/Phil Carlson
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Oct. 20, 2017 12:01 am Updated: Oct. 21, 2017 1:08 am

Rick Little will tell you he doesn't wear a headset on the sidelines because he trusts his assistant coaches.

And truthfully, he does.

But the final minute Friday night revealed the real reason he doesn't have direct communication with the coaches in the press box.

"You get a lot of chatter, a lot of stuff going on, and I can't think clearly," the Quincy High School football coach said. "I don't want anybody else in my ear because there's too much going on."

With the Blue Devils trailing Quincy Notre Dame 29-28 and just 40 seconds remaining in regulation, Little needed to be thinking as clearly as possible.

That wasn't easy.

In a game filled with emotional ebbs and flows and a constant barrage of counterpunches, the Raiders created a chaotic scene when Jackson Connell scored on a 18-yard touchdown run and then ran the two-point conversion to the front corner of the end zone for QND's first lead of the night.

"You've got the fans and the band and every kid going nuts, but you have to keep your mind," Little said. "Everyone offers a suggestion, just out of excitement, not out of second guessing. So you have to keep your mind."

And you have to embrace the moment.

"It's beautiful," Little said. "It's chaos, but it's beautiful."

Stealing back the momentum, the lead and inevitably the victory allowed Little to relish that.

Junior running back Jirehl Brock made two pivotal plays on the final drive -- completing a pass to quarterback Logan Ross for a 45-yard gain, then muscling through a pile of four would-be tacklers to score on a 14-yard run with 14 seconds remaining to lift the Blue Devils to a 34-29 victory.

"We didn't block it that well," Little said of the final play. "Jirehl just refused to be tackled."

He didn't need anyone chirping in his ear to know he needed to give the ball to four-star recruit when it mattered most.

Much like QND coach Bill Connell didn't need anyone telling him to go for two after his son scored on a run in which he pulled out of a potential tackle by Brock.

"We had actually been practicing the idea that if we scored late, since we were going to be on the road, we were going for two," Bill Connell said. "As soon as we scored, a lot of my players started holding up two (fingers). So you start debating it in your head, but at that point, you go with your gut.

"Your gut takes care of you then."

Both coaches made gutsy calls, and both endured gut-wrenching moments.

"It's disappointing, it's frustrating," Bill Connell said. "But we played with some fire in our bellies. We never backed down."

And they rode the roller coaster along with everyone else.

Principals and athletic directors were high-fiving their students. Television announcers used the word "wow" over and over and over again. Players felt the tension of what might happen next.

When a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown is followed by a 71-yard scoring run on the next play, you learn momentum is a fickle thing.

You also discover a game is never over if time is on the clock.

"I mean this, I truly do mean this, we work on these things," Little said of last-minute rallies. "So I tell my guys, 'I've got something for this. I've got something that will work.' They just have to believe it."

They listened to him. They believed him. They trusted him to call the perfect play as the seconds ticked away.

"You block everything else out and go do your job," Little said.

When it's over, you wait for the next beautifully chaotic moment to arrive.

You hope you're ready when it does.