It was loud after the first onside kick was recovered — even louder after the second. But when the Eduardo Garibay kick sailed through the goal posts as the last seconds ticked and the possibility of another week was no longer in doubt, it was downright explosive.
The Nashville Hornets secured their spot at the Class 2A championship game this week in a way that couldn’t have been better scripted. Down by more than a touchdown throughout the entire second half, the Hornets brought the heat on both sides of the ball to pull ahead and beat the St. Teresa Decatur Bulldogs in a heart-stopper, 37-35.
“It was a beautiful moment and the most important kick of my life,” Garibay said.
Nashville scored first with a 19-yard pass from Kolten Gajewski to Connor Gladson with 3:40 in the first quarter. That would prove to be the only Hornet lead up until the final moments as St. Teresa scored twice within a minute of each other, including a 16-yard pick 6 touchdown.
Gladson would even the score at 14-14 on a 5-yard touchdown run with 3:37 left in the half. But the Bulldogs answered back with a 5-yard run in on their own from senior Denim Cook.
The Hornets continued to trail 35-21 with 8:26 left in the fourth quarter. But the next drive would change the entire dynamic of the game, starting first with Gladson running in a 29-yard touchdown and put Nashville back within a possession.
After his PAT, Garibay then pulled off the first onside kick with Gladson recovering the ball at the Hornet 48.
On a third-and-ten, Gajewski found Isaac Turner for a doozy of a 52-yard touchdown. But after Garibay’s kick was blocked, Nashville still found itself behind, 35-34, with 5:22 remaining.
The second miracle kick from the sophomore transfer student from Mexico came at 5:21 when Turner took the ball from a Bulldog player and Hornet Field erupted in jubilation.
While that drive did not produce anything on the scoreboard, Nashville was not ready to call it quits yet. A stifling Hornet defense remained consistent in the crucial final minutes. Quintin Loquasto tackled Cook when he was one yard short of a first down, which turned the ball back to the Hornets at their own 35 with 1:32 left in the game.
Nashville would take five plays on the Hornets’ next possession to set up at the Bulldogs 38 before Gajewski spiked the ball to keep the clock and the season from dwindling down. The quarterback teamed up with Turner again for a 21-yard pass up the middle.
It is no doubt that the fantastic fourth quarter will go down as one of the most thrilling moments in school history. With just 5.7 seconds left, Garibay had his “beautiful moment” with the 24-yard field goal, and the Hornets broke up a deep pass to Tre Spence to make the storybook ending complete.
Gajewski finished 23 of 33 passes for 205 yards and two touchdown passes.
“We like being the underdog,” Gajewski said. “We were two years ago and we were almost the entire time here. No one really expects us.”
Gajewski, who was on the sidelines and “praying to God,” said he knew how special the season was from the very beginning.
“People have been asking me even before the season what kind we are going to have this year,” he said. “I said we are going to go to state and we are going to win it. With the kind of caliber of team that we have, it is amazing to come out here for the fans. The fans are incredible.”
Head Coach Steve Kozuszek said knowing that his team would be in for a battle, he is grateful that the Hornets are getting a chance to once again play in the title game.
“It is hard to put into words,” Kozuszek said. “Just so proud of the kids. Relief also comes to mind. Coming into the game, nobody wanted to let anybody down. Our coaching staff wanted to do it for the kids and for the town. Luckily, you couldn’t have scripted it any better.”
Nashville is back in the Class 2A championship in hopes of winning the first state championship in school history.
Gladson led with 127 yards rushing on 34 carries and three touchdowns. Turner caught a total of 11 passes for 128 yards and also had a couple of touchdowns.
Now on an 11-game winning streak, the Hornets will suit up once more for the state championship game on Friday at Huskie Stadium at 1 p.m.
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