The play has been on Staley coach Phil Lite’s sheet for months, printed alongside a handful of others that will likely never see a game. The Falcons have practiced it for weeks, despite expecting to never use it. But, hey, just in case, right?
With nine seconds left in a state championship game and the Falcons trailing by one — facing the decision of whether to kick a game-tying extra point or try a two-point conversion — Lite called a timeout. Then he finally called the play.
The timing couldn’t have been better.
Staley converted a do-or-die two-point conversion with nine seconds left, the lasting highlight in a 36-35 seesaw victory over Pattonville in the Missouri Class 5 state championship Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.
“The kids came over (during the timeout), and I told them that we’re gonna go win this damn thing,” Lite said. “We’ve been talking about destiny for weeks. I had to back up my words.”
The play-call required only one word.
Four weeks ago, the Falcons (14-0) spent the end of a practice installing “snag” into the playbook. Here’s how it looked in a game setting: Quarterback John Raybourn scrambled to his right, brought the Pattonville defense with him, then turned and passed back to his left.
There stood a wide-open J.D. Benbow, who cradled the ball in his stomach. He fell to the turf. The Staley sideline turned into a madhouse, celebrating the second state title in the program’s 10-year history.
This one read: Staley 36, Pattonville 35.
“I’m just an option on that play. If he rolls back the other way, I’m there,” Benbow said. “When I saw there was going to be an opening, I just sat there and waited for him to make his move.
“We made eye contact, and he threw it.”
As the Falcons marched down the field on the game-winning drive — which covered 72 yards in just 48 seconds — Lite told the coaches in his headset that he planned to go for two.
But some work was required first. Raybourn, who uncharacteristically turned the ball over three times, found senior Zach Elam on a 9-yard touchdown pass — the Falcons’ first points of the second half — to set up the conversion.
Pattonville thought it had the game-winner less than a minute earlier. Quarterback Kaleb Eleby scrambled past the persistent Staley pass rush before connecting with Charles Shelton on a 20-yard touchdown with 57 seconds left. Eleby finished with 410 yards and five touchdowns.
Elam, who recorded three sacks, had Eleby in his grasp on Pattonville’s go-ahead touchdown. But Eleby slipped out.
“I thought to myself some bad words,” Elam said. “But you know what, it happened. Everything happened for a reason.”
An uncharacteristic formula preceded the late drama. Staley turned the ball over four times, including its first two possessions.
Elam swung the momentum back in Staley’s direction. Who else? The only two-way starter in Staley history made his final impact as a receiver, a toe-tapping touchdown to set up the two-point try.
His initial effect arrived on defense. With Pattonville leading 7-0, Elam intercepted a swing pass and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown. Later in the half, he hauled in a 77-yard touchdown catch.
His final offensive statistical line: 3 catches, 102 yards, two touchdowns. The defensive numbers: three sacks, six tackles for loss, one interception, one touchdown.
“He’s an animal,” Lite said.
Elam was leader of a defensive line that sacked Eleby seven times, totaling 67 yards. Pattonville rushed for only 40 yards in its other 20 carries.
It was a motivated group, Lite said, and that dated back more than a year. The initial week of Staley’s fall football camp represented a fresh start, after the players spent the offseason trying to forget a gut-wrenching 2016 playoff loss.
But in a matter of minutes, they were reminded of it — by their own coaching staff. Lite was intent on using a bitter exit as motivation, or “fuel to the fire,” as he put it.
That can officially be put to the past.
The present: A state championship.