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R-MC earns homecoming win in final seconds
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R-MC earns homecoming win in final seconds

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ASHLAND — On a day where a nearly century-old football rivalry unveiled its final chapter, the finale for the home team was straight out of Hollywood.

After watching two would-be third quarter touchdowns go up in smoke due to fumbles, having a punt blocked for a safety, and falling behind by four points in the fourth quarter, Randolph-Macon got the one big defensive stop that eluded them two weeks prior, then scored with 19 seconds left to steal a 34-31 victory over the Wasps of Emory and Henry.

The Yellow Jackets (5-1) won their fifth straight over the Wasps in what will be their final meeting for the foreseeable future with Emory and Henry moving to NCAA Division II in 2022. They’ve been Old Dominion Athletic Conference rivals since the conference’s founding and played their first game against each other in 1929.

Despite a 254-yard rushing performance by Wasp senior tailback Devontae Jordan, which included three touchdown runs, the Yellow Jackets stopped him on his final carry on a fourth down, needing just 2 yards to seal the victory. The tackle by Silas James for no gain gave the offense possession with 1:47 left and no timeouts.

Sophomore quarterback Brecht Heuchan went to work, finding Tim Hanratty for 9 yards, then launching a bomb to Zach Bowman for 49 yards to the Emory and Henry 15.

On fourth down, after a 3-yard rush and two incompletions, Heuchan looked for Hanratty in the end zone, but missed him. However, a flag flew in, as pass interference was called against the Wasps for the third time in the contest, giving Randolph-Macon a first down at the 3.

Heuchan then found Joey Hunt, who had just enough separation on his defender to catch the football in the back corner of the end zone with 19 seconds left for the lead.

On the day, Heuchan was 7 of 13 for 259 yards and two touchdowns.

“Man, what a performance there at the end by the receivers, by the offensive line to protect, by Brecht who made some unbelievable throws,” noted Yellow Jacket head coach Pedro Arruza.

Emory and Henry’s last prayer went unanswered, as Kyle Short’s pass was intercepted by Erik Harris at midfield. The Yellow Jackets celebrated a Homecoming win, but Arruza harkened back to the first day of practice, reminding his team of a then-potential problem that became a near-disastrous reality.

“This has been an issue we’ve talked about since the start of the year, his ball security, the other backs’ ball security,” Arruza said. “Hopefully this will be a wake-up call. As a running back, you need to know when to go down.”

“His” referred to Justin DeLeon, the talented senior tailback who rushed for 202 yards and two first half touchdowns, but fumbled the football twice in the third period, once on a first and goal at the 5 as he neared the goal line after the Wasps muffed a punt deep in their own territory, and later on a run where he was en route to a 44-yard touchdown scamper when Jaylyn Kreimes punched the ball out of his hands from behind, forcing a touchback.

A 24-14 halftime lead, which could have been extended to 38-14, became 24-16 when punter Chris Vidal mishandled a low snap, his punt blocked through the end zone for a safety. After the free kick, Jordan broke free for his third score, then threw a halfback option pass to Gunner Griffith for a two-point conversion to tie the game at 24 at 4:38 left in the third.

Later in the third, junior quarterback Presley Egbers fumbled a snap on third down at the Wasps’ 4, forcing a field goal from Vidal for a 27-24 lead, setting up a fourth quarter filled with what if’s and “almosts” before the Yellow Jackets’ last-minute heroics.

Randolph-Macon struggled on third down, converting on just 4 of 14 attempts, but was 3-for-5 on fourth down while the Wasps missed both fourth down tries — the second setting up the winning drive.

Still smarting over his team’s 25-24 loss to Washington and Lee two weeks prior, Arruza broke down the difference between that day and this one.

“All we had to do was make a couple of plays, and we didn’t,” Arruza said of the loss to the Generals. “But, yeah, the fourth down stop was a huge stop. Great job by our guys.”

The Yellow Jackets return to ODAC play at Guilford on Saturday, needing to win out and have Washington and Lee lose two of their last three conference games for a shot at repeating as ODAC champions.

“I was proud of the resolve of our kids,” Arruza noted. “We did a really nice job, in my opinion.”

Rob Witham can be reached at sports@mechlocal.com.

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