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Montgomery wins a thriller against Cowanesque Valley 21-20

Logan Almeida of Montgomery breaks up a pass intended for Tucker St. Peter of Cowanesque Valley Friday night at Montgomery High School. DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

MONTGOMERY–Most Montgomery players started playing together a decade ago. At one point, they attended high school games, throwing the football around behind the bleachers and longing for the time when they could pursue their football dreams.

Friday night, those seniors and all their teammates encountered a dream-like scenario. Montgomery trailed late, needed a touchdown and had what felt like the entire community cheering it on.

It was the kind of moment those players have worked their whole lives to earn. And when it came, they owned it.

Montgomery moved 51 yards on 12 plays, Logan Almeida hit Devon Deem with a 7-yard touchdown and Hayden Wilt kicked the game-winning extra point with 16 seconds left as the Red Raiders rallied to edge Cowanesque Valley, 21-20 in a riveting Senior Night game. Almeida threw for 238 yards, Deem scored twice and Coltin Hans caught 11 passes for 119 yards as Montgomery’s seniors made their final home game about as memorable as possible against a strong CV team which had won five of its last six games.

This is one they might relive forever.

Timothy Freeman of Cowanesque Valley looks for running room against Montgomery Friday night at Montgomery High School. DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

“That’s a great high school game right there. That’s a senior moment,” Deem said. “This is one heck of a way to shut the door.”

“It’s a bittersweet moment,” Almeida said after completing 19 of 24 passes and throwing two touchdowns. “I’m glad to get a win on Senior Night, but at same time a piece of my heart is leaving with this field because I’ll never play on this field again.”

Almeida and his teammates left their hearts on that field, winning a game that was exciting from start to finish. CV (5-3) erased a 14-7 halftime deficit and went up 20-14 before Montgomery (4-5) took over with 4 minutes, 38 seconds remaining and created a drive of a lifetime. In the process, the Raiders snapped a five-game losing streak, became the first time in five weeks to defeat CV and put all their work since last winter into one electrifying victory.

“We’ve been saying Montgomery is right there. We just have to push the door in. Tonight I think was the first time where they got to experience the good side of adversity,” Montgomery coach Christian Diggs said. “We had to deal with some challenges and tribulations, but they fought to the end and it paid off. That determined mentality was there tonight and it was awesome to see.”

CV made big defensive stops throughout the game, preventing points three times after Montgomery had driven inside the 30-yard line, including twice in the second half. When Jacob Schmitt found Carter Ackley for a 1-yard touchdown on 4th-and-goal, CV made it two straight touchdown possessions and its fourth consecutive victory was in sight as it led, 20-14.

Devon Deem of Montgomery runs for a touchdown as Tanyon Brown of Cowanesque Valley tries to stop the run Friday night at Montgomery High School. DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

Shut out during the second half at that point, Montgomery did not flinch. A team which adopted the motto “Row the Boat,” knew the waters appeared choppy but they grabbed their oars and conquered the waves. Neither a holding penalty which caused a 1st-and-20 at midfield, nor two third-and-longs could rattle Montgomery. Nothing came easy, but the challenge is what made this drive, this victory so rewarding.

“We just told them we have all our timeouts, the clock is in our favor, we’re rolling and going in the right direction,” Diggs said. “Trust us, trust yourself, trust your brothers, play for each other and we’ll come out on top and that’s what they did.”

“The mindset is we’re going to go down and score. It’s just a matter of when we’re going to do it and how we’re going to do it,” Hans said after scoring a touchdown while adding an interception. “We know how much heart we have and we know we’re going to do whatever it takes to get into the end zone. We’re a tight team. We don’t have 11 individual athletes. We have 11 athletes connected all the time.”

Almeida and Hans displayed a special connection all night and a leaping Hans 9-yard first-down catch ignited the game-winning drive. A holding penalty followed before Deem caught two straight passes for 24 yards and moved the chains to the Indians 35-yard line. Two plays later, Montgomery faced third-and-13 and Almeida was nearly sacked before the senior leader broke contain and made a gutsy 13-yard first down run.

CV was giving up yards begrudgingly, but Almeida delivered again with 36 seconds left and burst up the middle and gained 11 yards to the 4-yard line on third-and-9. Almeida was 4 for 6 on the scoring drive, but his legs might have been as valuable as his arm.

DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette Montgomery's Coltin Hans gets tackled during Friday's game at Montgomery.

“Our line is very good at calling out blitzes and letting me know where untouched pressure is coming from. I drop back and go through my reads and if I sense pressure I try to get out,” Almeida said. “Our receivers are great when I’m rolling out, too, at finding the open zone and sitting down there and giving me a good target.”

Ackley made two big tackles for loss on the final drive and knocked Deem back three yards on the next play. Montgomery took its final timeout with 21 seconds remaining and drew up the perfect play for a perfect ending. Deem scored the game’s first touchdown on a dazzling 41-yard run and now his hands would make the difference. Almeida dropped back, quickly spotted Deem breaking right in the middle of the end zone and threw a laser his way. Deem dove to his right, cradled the 7-yard touchdown and tied the game with 16 seconds left.

“As any football player would say, there’s no better feeling than knowing the play call is going to you and the ball is going to be in your hands,” said Deem after playing a great defensive game and totaling 77 yards. “Once I heard that play call I went to the line, knowing we were going to score.”

To win, though, Montgomery needed its freshman to deliver the kick of his life. Wilt did not start kicking until Week 3, but showed no nerves. CV tried icing, Wilt but it made no impact as he channeled his inner-Adam Vinatieri and drilled the game-winner through the middle of the uprights. CV just missed on a deep throw after Tucker St. Peter returned the ensuing kickoff to the 46-yard line. Schmitt then threw a 5-yard pass to Elliott Good on the game’s final play. The Indians went down fighting, repeatedly lateraling the ball but Montgomery forced it backward and finally forced a fumble and ended the game 45 yards back from where Good caught the ball.

Montgomery players jumped high into the night sky, the large crowd roared and the Raiders secured a special moment.

“Hayden first came in and kicked in Week 3 and he’s shown so much potential and he stepped up when we needed him,” Hans said. “That’s a lot to ask for a freshman. Just to have him show up for us, especially on Senior Night, that means a lot to me. I’ll always be thankful to him and remember that moment.”

CV has produced so many great moments this season, enjoying one of its best seasons ever. The Indians already have won two more games than in any other season during the 2000s and nearly made it four consecutive victories. Linebacker Mike Sipps and defensive lineman Kade Sottolano were defensive forces, Schmitt completed 17 of 28 passes for 159 yards and St. Peter caught eight passes for 106 yards. Freshman running back Tim Freeman went over 100 yards for a third straight game, running for 108 and tying the game 7-7 late in the first quarter with his 4-yard touchdown.

Hans was spectacular all night and set up Montgomery’s first touchdown with a jumping interception. He gave Montgomery a 14-7 halftime lead when he made a super adjustment on a 15-yard touchdown pass, reaching slightly behind him and making the grab before going the final four yards into the end zone. Schmitt tied the game 14-14 late in the third quarter with a 1-yard run that capped an 11-play, 73-yard drive. Weston Pick made a sensational catch on the fourth-quarter’s first play, hauling a 15-yarder in between two defenders, bouncing off both and going 58 yards to the CV 12. The Indians, however, buckled down again with Freeman’s sack helping end that threat.

CV went right to work following that stop and went 71 yards on 10 plays, again effectively missing runs and passes. Schmitt sucked in the defense on a fourth-and-goal, before rolling right and finding a wide open Ackley in the middle of the end zone as CV took its first lead, 20-14.

“We knew CV was a good team. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Diggs said. “We told them there is no better time to get hot than right now. Now is the time to catch fire and keep going.”

Montgomery kept going on its next drive and changed its season’s complexion. Players, coaches and fans lingered under the lights afterward, basking in the glow of such an exhilarating, hard-fought victory. All wins are meaningful, but this one always will be one to savor.

“All week we stressed playing for each other,” Deem said. “We come out here on Friday night and we have the underclassmen playing for the upperclassmen, the upperclassmen playing for the underclassmen and it shows we’re more than just a bunch of brothers putting on the same jersey and working together. It shows heart we have on and off the field.”

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