MISSOULA – Trevor Utter admitted earlier this week his Eureka Lions would be an underdog in the Class B championship against perennial power Missoula Loyola.
Trailing 28-25 with eight seconds remaining, Utter put the ball in the hands of his junior quarterback Garrett Graves who launched a Hail Mary as he was hit. The ball sailed through the air to Austyn Sherwood, who slipped behind two Rams defenders for a 40-yard game-winning touchdown.
“It was so loud and we were out of timeouts on fourth down,” Utter said, “our kids were in a trips formation the play before and they came back into the same formation and I was trying to yell but they couldn’t hear me. Garrett just yelled, ‘Get open,’ and we had two guys deep, Austyn slipped behind the defense as Garrett threw a high, deep ball and Austyn caught it with 0.0 on the clock. It was just amazing.
“It was happening so fast because I couldn’t get a play call in because it was too loud. It happened so fast, the clock was ticking down and it just happened fast for us.”
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Graves, who hadn’t started a game until a Sept. 9 loss to Shelby, led the Lions on a two-minute drive, picking up a fourth-down conversion in the process.
Graves found Sherwood for 20 yards on a 4th-and-14, then avoided a sack and scrambled for a 5-yard gain to set up the miraculous throw at the end of regulation.
Loyola fumbled on its opening drive, leading to a Eureka touchdown and 7-0 lead. But the Rams went to Jacob Byrne, the senior running back, who tied the contest at 7-7 with a 3-yard rushing touchdown.
Eureka struck again in the second quarter as Graves found Cannan Smith on a 45-yard touchdown pass to put the Lions in front 13-7.
Smith forced another Loyola fumble on the ensuing drive and the Lions capitalized with a Graves touchdown pass to James Dunn.
Eureka led 19-7 near the end of the half but a screen play on fourth down kept Loyola’s scoring hopes alive. Brady Needles touchdown cut the Eureka lead to 19-14 at halftime.
The Lions added to their lead midway through the third quarter when Graves capped a drive with a 3-yard touchdown run to push the lead to 25-14 with under nine minutes remaining in the quarter. Eureka’s defense held on the next Loyola drive, stuffing the Rams on a fourth down play at their own 43-yard line.
But Loyola stole the momentum early in the fourth quarter, scoring a touchdown and then recovering an onside kick. Kellen Round’s 30-yard touchdown pass to David Koppang gave the Rams their first lead, 28-25 with 11 minutes remaining.
Eureka failed a fourth down try and the Rams drove to the Lions’ 5-yard line with 3:00 remaining. Loyola decided to attempt a fourth down conversion, but an incomplete pass gave the ball back to the Lions with under three minutes to play.
“That was the biggest defensive stop right there because they were driving, up three and they got to the 5-yard line and we stopped them,” said Utter. We were down three with three minutes to go on our own 5-yard line and we were able to drive, convert a couple fourth down conversions and we got to the point where the hail mary came in. It was an unbelievable job by the boys, coming in and getting it done. It was unbelievable.”
Utter praised the play of Graves and Sherwood, two of the leaders on the Lions’ roster.
“On their home field, a hail mary, it is an absolutely unbelievable finish,” Utter said. “You couldn’t have scripted it any better. The two kids that made that play at the end are two of our more dedicated kids. They’ve been so dedicated to our program and it was really fitting to finish that way.”
Saturday was only the second state championship appearance for the program from Lincoln County High School. Utter says the victory was a celebration he won’t soon forget.
“It’s unbelievable. We were out on the field for about an hour, the entire town of Eureka I think is here. I don’t think there is anyone left at home,” he said. “They were all out there hugging and crying, the whole town. It was just amazing. They’re going to meet us at the county line on our way home and escort us back to town too. There will be a big, huge pep rally in the gym because the whole town wants to be involved. It’s amazing.”