It was the exact game Ferris coach Jim Sharkey feared all week.
In what will go down as one of the best comebacks by his team, Sharkey’s third-ranked Saxons rallied from a 20-0 halftime deficit to knock off the upset-minded Mead Panthers 21-20 Friday before a crowd of 4,952 at Albi Stadium.
Ferris (6-0) scored all three of its touchdowns in the third quarter, the final score coming with no time on the clock after the referees failed to turn the teams around for the start of the fourth quarter.
Seldom-used wide receiver Cole Lemer got behind the Panthers’ secondary to haul in a 49-yard pass from wide receiver Riley Stockton on a trick play. Kicker Alex Belling’s point-after kick put the Saxons ahead by what proved to be the final margin.
The Saxons stopped Mead (4-3) on its next possession, and punter Marc David pinned Ferris at its 1-yard line with 8:50 remaining.
That’s when the Saxons went on a ball-control drive, maintaining possession until the horn sounded. Ferris moved all the way to the Panthers’ 6.
“I feared this game all week,” Sharkey said. “Coming off of our last two wins, I thought we were set up and I knew they were playing for their playoff lives and homecoming. It had that whole mix. I thought our kids responded real well in the second half – like we have all year. Hopefully, it won’t have to be this exciting the rest of the year.”
Ferris took advantage of a short field on its second and third possessions of the third quarter, pulling within 20-14 after Mead owned the first half.
“We were shellshocked (at halftime),” Sharkey said. “We made mistakes we haven’t made all year. They took advantage of them. I think our kids knew that if they settled down and play …. I thought we played well defensively. (Wes) Bailey caught a seam and went on us, but besides that we did a really good job. The goal was to get back into by the fourth quarter.
“I didn’t expect to get 21 in the third quarter.”
On the Saxons’ final possession, Heidinger had nine carries. He finished with 170 yards on 32 attempts with 106 coming in the second half.
“We were just focused on ball security and running the clock out,” Heidinger said of the last possession. “We knew we could go 99 yards. We wanted to take some weight off our defense and run the clock out. First half, it was just dumb mistakes. That’s not Saxons football. At halftime we knew we could beat these guys. The way we came back and handled adversity speaks volumes for this team.”
Mead coach Sean Carty has been waiting for a few things to go his team’s way this season.
Carty’s Panthers got it and more Friday.
Playing stout defense and taking advantage of big breaks, Mead stunned the Saxons in the first half.
“We just ran out of bodies,” McCarty said. “Bailey got a concussion running into our own guy. We had guys cramping up. It’s been a tough year for us. But we played with heart and we gave them all we could give them.”
Mead used a 27-yard interception return for a touchdown from Paul Miller coupled with a big fumble recovery that set up another score in the first half.
The Panthers’ first-half offense essentially consisted of just one play. But what a significant play it was when on the third snap of the game Mead quarterback Andy Wetzel hit Bailey on a quick slant, and the State 4A champion hurdler broke free for a 79-yard TD connection.
Leading 14-0 midway in the second quarter, Mead’s Davian Barlow recovered a fumble on a botched fair-catch attempt by Jordan Tonani at the Saxons’ 20-yard line.
Two plays following a Ferris pass interference penalty, Wetzel found P.J. Hahn on a 10-yard TD pass.
The Saxons blocked the point-after kick, but the Panthers led 20-0 with 4:07 to go before halftime.