Despite being the No. 1 seed in their CCS Division II bracket, the Wilcox Chargers saw its season end Friday night at the hands of the No. 5 seed Bellarmine Bells. It was a back-and-forth battle with four lead changes (10-7, 14-10, 17-14, 21-17). Bellarmine would take the final lead on a touchdown pass with just over five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Taking over at their own 30-yard line, Wilcox opened the following drive with three solid runs on the first four plays to earn a first down. It looked like their vaunted rushing attack was ready for a game-winning drive. After a false start penalty set them back five yards, Wilcox dropped back to pass on first down. Unfortunately for Wilcox fans, quarterback Armand Johnson and receiver Maulidi Saleh weren’t on the same page. Saleh turned up the field while Johnson threw an out route right to a Bellarmine defensive back who came away with the interception.
Despite the turnover, the Chargers wouldn’t go down without a fight. Facing adversity from the opening kickoff, Wilcox kept on bouncing back. Chargers’ cornerback Mitchell Gonzalez, who was beaten for a Bellarmine touchdown earlier in the half, came away with his redemption by intercepting a Bellarmine pass in the end zone.
Wilcox would then get one more chance with the ball. Facing a fourth and 10 with 42 seconds remaining, Wilcox looked like they picked up the first down on a diving catch just past midfield by Saleh. The referees ruled Saleh was short of the line to gain. The Wilcox sideline was in an uproar over the ruling as Bellarmine then took possession and kneeled out the clock.
“[Maulidi] caught the ball on the ground and then slid forward,” remarked Wilcox Head Coach Paul Rosa on the controversial final snap on offense. “Right where he caught it is where he should have been spotted. It was probably a yard-and-a-half mistake. In real time, referees make mistakes, but when we went back and looked at it, he had the first down by one-and-a-half to two yards.”
The missed call was a tough way for their season to end, but even if the Chargers maintained possession, scoring a go-ahead touchdown with how little time was remaining would have still been a tough task. Wilcox certainly didn’t do themselves any favors in the first three-and-half quarters of the game.
For the most part, Wilcox moved the ball decently on offense and shut Bellarmine’s ground game down, but costly mistakes hurt. Wilcox fumbled the opening kickoff in the CCS Division II game on a squib kick and Bellarmine recovered at the Chargers’ 30-yard line before scoring just two plays later.
Despite trying as valiantly as they could, multiple false starts, a muffed punt and the fourth quarter interception simply proved too much for Wilcox to overcome.
“Our defense played great, when you’re playing against a great team like that, that plays in the hardest league around, you just can’t make mistakes,” chimed Chargers senior tailback Andrew Palacios who scored both of the Wilcox touchdowns. “That first play of the game and other mistakes we made; those are going to hurt you. I think that’s the reason they came out on top because we made more mistakes.”
Congratulations to Wilcox for yet another year of football excellence.