The East High Thunderbirds are heading to Division I state championship game and senior Damarion Delaney played a key role in making it happen.
A week after scoring four touchdowns in the team’s rout of Service in the quarterfinal, the CIC Utility Player of the Year helped his team advance past the semifinal round with a trio of clutch plays in overtime to beat the West High Eagles 34-32.
Delaney dealt with debilitating cramps that caused him to be examined by trainers and leave the field on multiple occasions but with the game on the line, he made plays on both sides of the ball to get the final margin of victory and ultimately seal the win.
“It was tough because I was starting to cramp up really bad,” said Delaney. “When I came back in, I just knew that everything was on the line.”
It only took the Thunderbirds one play to get into the end zone on the first play of regulation as well as the first play of overtime. The latter came on a 10-yard end-around hand-off to the Delaney for a quick decisive score.
“When coach called my name on that very first play on offense, I was very thankful to get in the end zone,” said Delaney.
East then proceeded to run the exact same play to the same player on the same side of the field to convert the crucial two-point conversion attempt.
“They’re not going to think I’m stupid enough to run this again, run the damn thing,” said East coach Jeff Trotter to a member of his staff following the touchdown. “It didn’t take a whole lot of coaching smarts just to watch Damarion and how he had that edge.”
The successful conversion by the Thunderbirds meant that West would have to go for two as well if it were able to get into the end zone. It only took the Eagles one more play than it did their crosstown rivals to score a touchdown on an 8-yard scramble from senior quarterback Jaideven Suesue. However, they were not able to tie the game because Delaney was able to break up the short pass intended for Eagles wide receiver Quentin Underwood in the back of the end zone.
“That’s just what he does. He’s a dog no matter what,” said senior quarterback Kyler Johnson. “Get injured and he comes right back in no matter what.”
While the game wound up coming down to the wire it did not start out that way. The Thunderbirds quickly built a 7-0 lead after junior DeShawn Rushmeyer took the opening kickoff 79-yards for a touchdown.
East extended its lead to 13-0 on the first play of the second quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run from Johnson. West drove the ball inside the red zone on the ensuing possession but the first of Suesue’s two red-zone interceptions of the game killed the promising drive.
Just when it seemed like the Thunderbirds were in firm control of the game, they opened the door for the Eagles to get right back into the mix. After failing to convert on a fourth down deep in their own territory, the Eagles cut their lead to six points in one play on a 23-yard run from senior running back James ‘Boogie’ Sloan.
“I really thought we’d get that,” said Trotter. “I should’ve kicked it but I can’t look back and got to move on, don’t dwell on it. Luckily the players didn’t make me look too stupid and won the game for me.”
West got the ball to start the second half and took its first lead of the game after it capped off a six-play drive with a 16-yard rushing touchdown from Suesue where he squirted through the defense on a rush to the left.
The Eagles forced another turnover on downs and would’ve extended their lead by a possession but a holding penalty negated a 6-yard rushing touchdown by Sloan. Suesue’s second red zone interception was on the next play and resulted in the Thunderbirds taking the lead back after Johnson returned the turnover 101 yards for a touchdown.
“I saw him go up the middle and I kind of baited him into it and I just had to make a play,” said Johnson.
Even after East went up by 12 points late in the third quarter on a 2-yard touchdown by Delaney, West didn’t give up and clawed its way back with a pair of scores in the fourth quarter. They had an opportunity to take a late lead on an extra point attempt following Sloan’s second touchdown of the game but the ball bounced off the crossbar leaving the game tied at 26-26 with just over four minutes remaining in regulation.
Neither team could deliver the final dagger in the remaining time left in the fourth quarter but East was ultimately able to make the requisite plays to take care of business in overtime and punch its ticket to next weekend’s title game.
“I feel like nobody else deserved this more than we did and I’m just glad that everybody came out and put their all out on the field today,” said Delaney.