FORTVILLE — The Pendleton Heights Arabians needed every last second Friday night to upend the Mt. Vernon Marauders.
Refusing to back down despite trailing 14-0 early in the third quarter, the host Marauders charged back to claim a one-possession lead and clung to a one-point lead late until Pendleton Heights delivered the final dagger.
The Marauders’ shot at back-to-back Hoosier Heritage Conference wins slipped away as Arabians’ Thomas Quiroga converted a 21-yard field goal with one second remaining to give Pendleton Heights (5-1, 3-1 HHC) a 23-21 victory.
The final drive started with 54.7 seconds left as the Arabians marched from their own 41 before spiking the ball at the Marauders 4 to setup the game-winner.
“It’s tough. A lot of us have friends at Pendleton, and it being Senior Night, it is a little bit harder,” Mt. Vernon senior Trevor Bond remarked after the Marauders dropped to 2-4 on the season and 1-3 in the HHC.
“But we always have another game. At the end of the season, I believe, me and my brothers will leave it all out on the field. I’m proud to call each and everyone of these guys my brothers.”
Until the Arabians made their final push — with only one timeout left — the Marauders banded together and executed to rally back from their scoreless first half.
Pendleton Heights led 7-0 at halftime after scoring on the game’s opening drive, which covered 58 yards nearly four and a half minutes. Quarterback Christian Conkling connected with Eli Pancol on a 13-yard touchdown pass to cap the drive.
The Arabians nearly made it an fast two-possession advantage in the first quarter following a shot field at the Marauder 37 as they blocked a Mt. Vernon punt. But the Mt. Vernon defense held its ground to force a turnover on downs.
The Marauders offense struggled to open the second half as quarterback Tyson Harley was picked off for a second time, leading to another Arabians’ short field at the Mt. Vernon 29.
Five plays later, Pendleton Heights led 14-0 behind a Conkling 10-yard run. Conkling rushed for 51 yards and passed for 168 on 12 of 23 completions.
“We came out a little bit slow, but we picked it up, and we came back together as a team,” Bond said.
The turning point was sparked by the defense when the Marauders picked off Conkling on second-and-7 on the Mt. Vernon 28 in the third quarter.
Harley and running back Brian Robinson led powered the Marauders near midfield, and an helmet-to-helmet penalty on the Arabians put Mt. Vernon in position to strike.
Set at the Arabians 43 after the penalty, the Marauders loss three yards, then followed up with a Harley touchdown pass to Robinson for 46 yards and a 14-7 deficit.
Harley completed 10 of 20 pass attempts for 149 yards and two touchdowns.
His second materialized on the Marauders ensuing drive, starting at the Arabians 16. A lost fumble by Conkling on an exchange gave Mt. Vernon a prime opportunity that Harley capitalized on.
Under duress in the pocket, Harley scrambled and connected with Max Burhenn for a 14-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone to tie the game at 14-14 with 1:27 left in the third quarter.
“We just played with some emotion and we made some plays,” Mt. Vernon head coach Neil Kazmierczak said. “The defense got that big turnover, and the punt team blocked that punt. We made some big plays.”
The blocked punt came after two failed drives by the Arabians in the fourth quarter. A penalty on fourth-and-3 from the Mt. Vernon 35 erased a Conkling touchdown pass to Pancol. On the next play, Conkling was sacked by Mt. Vernon’s Conner Price and Berhenn.
Berhenn put the Marauders up 21-14 on a fourth-and-6 during the Arabians’ next possession. The junior barreled into the backfield and blocked a Quiroga punt attempt, swiping the ball off his foot and returning the ball 46 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:25 remaining.
“We spent a lot of time practicing that, and it was good to see them execute,” Kazmierczak said.
Pendleton Heights responded with a big kick return by Pancol, which Conkling used to hurry up the Arabians into the end zone four plays later.
Conkling connected with Anakin Allison on a 29-yard strike to cut the Marauders’ lead 21-20. A failed two-point conversion pass gave Mt. Vernon the ball with 1:19 left.
Unable to gain a first down and eat enough of the clock, the ball went back to the Arabians from their own 41. Though Mt. Vernon sacked Conkling on the drive’s second play, he regrouped and three plays later, he put Quiroga in position with 5.1 seconds remaining.
“You just have to give them credit. They made some really good adjustments and some really good throws,” Kazmierczak said.