The McDowell Titans have endured a tremendous amount of adversity this season. But they kept working hard in practice, buoyed by a promise from their head coach that good things would eventually happen.
Something good happened Friday.
The Titans pulled out a dramatic, 21-14 win over the West Caldwell Warriors in overtime at Titan Stadium, snapping a seven-game losing streak. The Warriors (3-3 Northwestern 3A/4A Conference, 6-4 overall) came into the game fresh off an impressive victory over Freedom the week before, while the Titans (1-5, 2-8) had given up 61 points in a loss to Watauga.
But none of that mattered Friday.
The game was tied 14-14 at the end of regulation, but the Titans needed just one play – a 10-yard scoring run from Adam Randolph – to take the lead in overtime. Chase Baird’s extra point made it 21-14.
West Caldwell turned to Taye Dula, the league’s leading rusher, on three consecutive plays, but still faced fourth down at the 2. After a timeout, a bad snap sent the ball sailing into the backfield. Elijah Brooks chased it down and lofted a desperation pass that landed harmlessly just short of the goal line.
“I’ve been promising these kids if they continue to work like they do, something good is going to happen,” said Titans head coach Andy Morgan. “Now that it did, they will never forget how to win. I couldn’t be happier for them. People don’t see the work they put in every day. They’re a great group of kids and I hope this is something we can build on.”
Prior to overtime, the game evolved as something of a shootout between Dula and Titans quarterback Ben Ballew and his cadre of receivers.
Ballew was 18-of-27 passing for 235 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. His five favorite targets all caught at least three balls apiece. Dakota Effler snagged five passes for 74 yards and a touchdown, and Andruw Randolph had three receptions for 55 yards and a score. Trevor Pearson (4 receptions, 46 yards), J.C. Olivo (3-45) and Seth Phillips (3-15) also got in on the action.
Olivo rushed for all but 20 of his team-high 88 yards in the second half. Adam Randolph, the “running” half of McDowell’s two-quarterback equation, rushed for 37 yards and the game-winning TD on eight carries.
“We’ve been faced with a lot of adversity,” said Ballew. “Coach just kept telling us to stay together and keep working together. We had three good days of practice, and we tried our hardest and got the win.
“It was really fun. It was fun to have a shootout like that.”
Meanwhile, Dula turned in his third consecutive 300-yard game, going for 307 on 28 carries. But Dula, who scored four times against Freedom, never found pay dirt against the Titans. He broke runs of 54, 32, 70 and 29 yards, but McDowell’s defenders caught up to him each time.
And when the Warriors got close to the goal line, the Titans stymied Dula completely: Inside the 10, he rushed for just 16 yards on seven attempts.
“He broke a couple where we had him wrapped up, but he’s a 1,700-yard rusher and a 195-pound tailback,” said Morgan. “He’s done that for a reason. But when he broke out in the open field, we ran him down.”
The Titans were the first to make a play in the open field. Ballew hit Andruw Randolph over the middle for a 43-yard touchdown play that put McDowell up 7-0 with 2:28 left in the first quarter.
West Caldwell tied it up in the second quarter. Dula went 70 yards to set the Warriors up on the 3, and Nate Brown scored from there on the next play.
But the Titans had a quick answer. Austin Prince returned the ensuing kickoff 31 yards to the West Caldwell 43. Seven plays later, Ballew found Effler in single coverage on a picture-perfect fade route from 15 yards out, and McDowell led 14-7.
The score stayed that way until the fourth quarter.
Brooks (2 rushes, 62 yards) set up the game-tying score with a 39-yard carry to the Titans 3 on the jet sweep. Quarterback Kaleb Dula (3-of-6 passing, 35 yards, INT) scored from the 1 on third down to even things up at 14-14.
The Titans had a chance to win in regulation after a West Caldwell fumble with less than two minutes to play. Baird’s 47-yard field goal attempt had plenty of distance, but narrowly missed wide.
That set the stage for overtime.
“They played hard, and we didn’t play well enough to win,” said West Caldwell head coach DeVore Holman. “That’s a signature win for coach over there and his program. We need to go to the drawing board and work on, not X’s and O’s, but the execution part. Little things don’t matter until the little things matter.”
West Caldwell was flagged 13 times for 110 yards in penalties. At one point in the fourth quarter, the Warriors were called for illegal procedure on three consecutive snaps while trying to punt.
The Warriors outgained the Titans 418-336 in total yards, with 383 of West Caldwell’s yards coming on the ground.
Notes: The win not only snaps McDowell’s skid, but puts the Titans back in contention for a State 4A Playoff spot. If McDowell can beat Freedom next Friday in the home finale, and if South Caldwell loses to Alexander Central, the Titans would get the league’s top spot despite losing to South earlier in the year. Freedom was pounded 42-0 by Watauga Friday night in Morganton…Tice Edwards had an interception for McDowell, the team’s second of the year…Adam Randolph and fellow defensive back Steven Webb joined forces to run down Dula in the open field on several occasions. Both ran stride-for-stride with the star tailback…Each team sacked the opposing quarterback four times, with Ballew going down for negative-33 yards and Kaleb Dula for negative-16.