STEENS — Up and down the see saw went.
When it finally stopped, the Immanuel Christian School football team found itself stuck on the bottom with the Deer Creek High School Warriors perched on top.
In a game that featured five lead changes and two ties, Deer Creek held on for a 28-26 victory Friday night to claim the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class A, District 2 title.
“Tonight was the most emotion and the most heart I’ve seen any team play with since I’ve been here,” Immanuel Christian coach Greg Watkins said. “I couldn’t be prouder of a group. We feel like we’ve laid down a foundation and set a new standard for football here at Immanuel.”
It was a night in which Watkins and the Rams had several opportunities to come out on top but couldn’t capitalize at the right time.
Early in the game, Immanuel Christian (4-6) threw the first punch, going 72 yards in 10 plays on the opening drive. Quarterback Jay Jay Swanigan led the time consuming drive. The 6-foot-3 junior ran for 38 yards and threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jaelin Bankhead.
The lead didn’t last long. The Warriors needed just five plays to move 75 yards for their first touchdown. After the touchdown, quarterback Hobie Hobart found receiver Chris Smith for a two-point conversion to make it 8-7.
The game went back and forth all night. Immanuel Christian scored again on a 17-yard KC Cunningham run to take a 14-8 lead, but Deer Creek answered and sent the teams into halftime tied at 14.
“We did a good job of moving the ball and executing everything we did,” Watkins said. “We felt like they hadn’t really stopped us all game. We stopped ourselves with some things, but the execution, the hustle, and the focus was all there tonight.”
The see-saw affair continued in the second half.
Deer Creek took the kickoff and went on an 11-play, 74-yard touchdown drive. The two-point conversion failed and gave the Warriors a 20-14 lead.
Immanuel Christian answered with an 11-play drive that went 62 yards. The extra point was blocked.
Deer Creek needed just three plays to reclaim the lead. A two-point conversion made it 28-20 early in the fourth quarter.
Immanuel Christian refused to give in. After a penalty pushed the Warriors back 5 yards, R.J. Deloach took the kickoff 60 yards for a touchdown to push the Rams back within two after a failed two-point conversion.
With enough time remaining to make a final run, Immanuel Christian took possession and marched down the field against a tired defense.
“We knew if we could get the ball one more time we’d have a chance. They hadn’t stopped us all night,” Watkins said.
After nine plays, Immanuel Christian was set up to kick a game-winning field goal. Unsure of his kicker’s range, Watkins dialed up a beautifully designed fake that looked to be an easy touchdown pass. A defender got his hands up at the line of scrimmage and tipped the pass, though, to deny the chance.
“This past week we put in the fake on the field goal, and it was set up perfect. They left our guy wide open,” Watkins said. “Their guy came in and tipped that pass. If he doesn’t tip that pass, we’ve got six points.”
Despite falling just short in its home finale, Immanuel Christian earned the No. 16 seed and will play top-seeded Natchez Trinity Episcopal at 7 p.m. Friday.
“We’re excited to be in,” Watkins said. “We’ve got a little bit of hurt, but Monday we’ll put this behind us and get ready.”