Ian Corwin and his Jenks teammates are well-versed on the history of the Trojans-Union rivalry that has included many amazing finishes.
And that’s what provided the Trojans optimism after Union’s Kyler Pearson caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Peyton Thompson with 20 seconds left to give the Redskins a three-point lead in the Class 6AI semifinals Saturday afternoon at H.A. Chapman Stadium.
“I thought I’ve just got to make a play,” Corwin said. “It’s our time to make a play.”
And the senior quarterback did with a 78-yard bomb to Julian Clarke, who was forced out at the 2 with seven seconds left. After Corwin was stopped on a keeper at the 1, Noah Hernandez powered just across the goal line for a touchdown as time expired to give the second-ranked Trojans a 27-24 victory before an estimated 7,000 fans.
Jenks (11-1), after losing in the semifinals the past two years following four state titles in a row from 2012-15, advances to the final at 7 p.m. Nov. 30 at Chapman Stadium. The Trojans also won this year’s regular-season meeting with Union, 27-10, on Sept. 7.
The rematch was reminiscent of the 2000 regular-season meeting when Union took a three-point lead with 21 seconds left, only to see it erased in 13 seconds on Kejuan Jones’ 80-yard TD catch.
Clarke believed that history had repeated on his reception that occurred between two defenders near midfield. He dived for the right pylon, but was ruled out of bounds at the 2 after being chased by defender JT McCloud, who raced across the field.
“I thought I scored, but what the ref says goes,” Clarke said, and then added about his dreams of having a moment like this against Union, “I always wanted to go do it, but I never thought I actually would do it, so to actually do it is awesome.
“You wake up at 5 in the summer, l didn’t want to do all that to lose this. I knew I’ve got to make this catch. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier in my life.”
Jenks, which rallied from an early 10-0 deficit and had a tying field goal blocked midway through the fourth quarter, could have tried another, but elected to go for the outright win instead of overtime. The Trojans needed a full yard as they discussed the final play call with two seconds left.
Hernandez entered the game with 19 TDs on 96 carries this season, but Union had stuffed the Trojans’ ground game for the most part Saturday, limiting him to 13 yards on nine previous rushes.
“Noah does a great job of earning tough yards,” Jenks coach Keith Riggs said. “We felt like we could get that 1 yard. We really felt if we could put the ball in Noah’s hands he would get it across the goal line.”
And he barely did, following his line as they won a titanic struggle with several Union defenders who tried to keep Hernandez out of the end zone.
Jenks left tackle Brady Latham said, “When they (coaches) called it, running over to the left, we were like, it’s on the O-line’s back. If we’re going to win the game, it’s going to be on us on this play, we just had to get it over.
“I didn’t see it (Hernandez cross the goal line), but when I saw everyone else go crazy I started crying. It was straight out of my dreams.”
Hernandez said to Fox23’s Jeff Kolb before rushing off to his father’s wedding that was scheduled just after the game, “It’s so emotional, so emotional. We have 20 seconds to pull it off, and we did it. I wouldn’t have wanted it to happen any other way.”
With 2:33 left, it appeared Hernandez might have scored the winning toucdown when he caught a 26-yard pass on a wheel route from Corwin for a 21-17 lead. Corwin completed 20-of-34 passes for 344 yards and three TDs – the first two caught by Blake Pitcock.
But then Thompson led the third-ranked Redskins (9-3) on a 10-play, 67-yard drive, capped by his TD pass to Pearson, who was well covered by Jenks safety Landis Morris, on fourth-and-3 from the 4 with 20 seconds left to give Union a 24-21 lead.
"We were sitting there on man coverage and they love to run the pick routes," said Morris, who had an interception earlier in the fourth quarter. "So when I saw him going out, I was trying to get over the top of the pick, and when he sat back down, I was like `Oh no.' I didn’t get there in time. Sometimes they make great catches. No. 2 (Pearson) is a great receiver. I thought it was over. But Julian Clarke pulled something out of the hat. Julian Clarke picked up Landis Morris."
Union coach Kirk Fridrich, knowing the rivalry’s history, wanted to take as much time off the clock as possible.
“We probably called a timeout way too soon on that last play,” Fridrich said. “I’m a little frustrated with myself on that one, we probably should have let the clock go down, but we could have got a first down without scoring. Obviously a coach’s mistake there to give them time.”
Corwin knew he had enough time, remembering Cooper Nunley’s 76-yard TD bomb to Dylan Harding with 25 seconds left to win the 2013 MidFirst Bank Backyard Bowl 20-16.
“I’m so excited,” Corwin said. “I knew we were going to do it.”