Hogan Prep was on the ropes.
By DAVID BOYCE
Special to The Star
With the clocking ticking toward halftime, Center was leading the undefeated Rams 7-0 and closing in on a two-touchdown lead.
Then Hogan senior defensive back John Wilson hauled in an interception at the goal line.
“It was very big,” Wilson said. “It was a clutch stop for the whole team. I felt it was time to make a play. We needed momentum. That’s what we got out of it.”
Indeed. In the second half, the Rams turned in several highlight reel gems that produced a thrilling 30-13 comeback victory Wednesday evening in a Missouri Class 3 District semifinal at the newly refurbished Interscholastic League Stadium.
Hogan, which improved to 11-0, will play Monday in a district championship game.
Throughout the first half, it appeared Hogan might be facing its first loss of the season. Center had dominated the line of scrimmage but Wilson’s interception near halftime definitely shifted the momentum.
“It was huge,” said Hogan coach Phil Lascuola said. “The way our defense was playing in the first half, I could have seen them scoring and us being down by two touchdowns at half against a good Center team. That is hard to overcome.”
The Rams got the ball to start to start the third quarter, and on the first play, senior quarterback Isaiah Baylis tossed a 45-yard bomb to Tyus Franks.
On the next play, Baylis hit Kareem Sanders for a 20-yard touchdown. A two-point conversion run by Kevis McArthur gave Hogan an 8-7 lead.
It took Hogan only 36 seconds to take the lead.
“They were playing without a safety,” Lascuola said. “They had nine or 10 in the box. We knew coming out in the second half, we would have to throw it to loosen them up. We haven’t thrown it a lot this year. Our quarterback was on. He made a great pass and then he hit the tight end. They had to respect our pass after that.”
Center, though, quickly responded with a six-play, 42-yard drive capped by a 25-yard touchdown run by senior Juice Dowdy. It was Dowdy’s second touchdown of over 20 yards in the game.
Turnovers by both teams dominated action over the next few minutes. Wilson got his second pick, but his next key play came on 53-yard punt return late in the third quarter that put the ball on the 4.
Two plays later, Martinez Lewis scored on a 2-yard run on the last play of the third quarter. Another two-point conversion put Hogan in front 16-13.
“You know the famous Michael Jordan speech of ‘It is not how you start, but how you finish’?” Baylis said. “Our team lives strongly by that. It is our bread and butter. That is what we go by every day, and we came out here and showed it.”
The play that put Center in a deep hole was a 75-yard pass play from Baylis to Chriselle Lang that gave the Rams a 24-13 lead.
“It was huge for the team and huge for the fans,” Lang said. “I think it picked us up. After that, we played the way we know how to play.”
It was a stunning turnaround for Hogan. And the Rams understand the next round will be harder.
“We have to stay humble,” Wilson said. “Whoever we play, it is not going to be easy.”