Huge fourth quarter leads Evangel to ACSC Championship

Published 12:10 am Saturday, October 27, 2018

By GRAHAM BROOKS / Staff Writer

ALABASTER – An impressive fourth quarter that resulted in 30 points and three interceptions helped lead the Evangel Lightning to their fourth straight ACSC State Championship with a 58-34 win over the Ezekiel Knights on Friday, Oct. 26.

Before the explosive fourth quarter, the Lightning struggled on both sides of the ball and needed a double-digit comeback to put the game away and defend their title.

Evangel struggled right out of the gate as Ezekiel jumped out to a 14-0 lead behind a 51-yard touchdown run and another rushing touchdown after a Lightning fumble.

After the game, Evangel head coach Tim Smith said he wasn’t worried after his team fell behind two scores.

“That’s been our m.o. all year,” Smith said. “We have fallen behind almost every game all year and they just keep battling, don’t quit and they just keep hustling and they keep playing. I really wasn’t worried because I knew we were going to turn it around and I knew we needed to turn it around pretty quick and we didn’t need to dig that hole any deeper.”

Trailing by two scores, Evangel finally got on the board with 5:44 left in the second quarter as running back Noah Shears ripped off several big runs before finally punching it in from a yard out. Shears also scored on the two-point conversion to cut Ezekiel’s lead to 14-8.

Shears finished the game as the leading rusher compiling 152 yards on the ground and three touchdowns.

Later in the quarter, Evangel quarterback Tyler Henderson had his longest play of the night tossing a 68-yard touchdown to Chase Jones. Shears converted another two-point conversion as the Lightning took its first lead of the game 16-14 with 2:10 left in the half.

To cap off the first half and 22 unanswered points, Henderson threw a touchdown to a wide-open Dawson Humphries while falling to the ground that extended the Lightning lead to 22-14.

After giving up 22 unanswered points, Ezekiel came back to take control in the third quarter by forcing two Evangel turnover on downs and scored twice to regain the lead 28-22 heading into the final quarter.

However, to start the final quarter Evangel had the ball first and goal on the one-yard line where Henderson snuck it in to tie the game 28-28 with 11:57 to go in the game.

Henderson finished the game 11-for-22 with 210 yards passing and two touchdowns. He also added two rushing touchdowns.

Things then fell apart for Ezekiel the rest of the way as a bad snap on a punt resulted in a safety that gave Evangel a 30-28 lead and the ball back.

The Lightning took advantage as Shears rumbled 24-yards for a touchdown following the safety to make it 36-28 Evangel.

Ezekiel would respond with a 60-yard touchdown run on the first play of the ensuing drive to cut the Lightning lead to 36-34.

This would be as close as Ezekiel would get, as the Evangel defense wouldn’t give up any more points the rest of the way.

Trailing 36-34, the Knights were attempting a comeback when Jones intercepted an Ezekiel pass and returned it for a touchdown with 4:01 left in the game to give Evangel a 42-34 lead.

On Ezekiel’s next drive, Jones made another interception and returned it to the 4-yard line to essentially ice the game. Shears would take the ball in for a touchdown moments later as the Lightning lead grew to 50-34.

Finally, one last interception by Evangel’s Humphries was the icing on the cake as the Lightning finished the fourth quarter with a safety and three interceptions which led to 30 points.

“They were huge and we had really struggled to stop them all night and those picks there were just huge,” Smith said of the late game takeaways.

Jones was named the championship game MVP for his performance on both sides of the ball.

With the win, Evangel has now won the ACSC title in eight of the last nine years but the season won’t stop there.

“They’re special and they know how to win and compete and they play hard and we’re not done,” Smith said. “We have an invitation now, we don’t know where we’re going but since we won tonight we get to go to either Atlanta, Georgia or to Dayton, Tennessee to play for a national championship in 8-man. So, our season is not over yet.”