Campos’ kick, true grit lifts Blue Devils past Mustangs

Blue Devils’ kicker Adrian Campos (31) sets up for his game-winning field goal at home on Friday, October 25. (Photo by Cody Dalton/ CSD Photography)Adrian Campos celebrates with his teammates. (Photo by Cody Dalton/ CSD Photography)
Cody Dalton
O-N-E Contributor

MAIDEN — In a game that started and ended with special teams scores, the Maiden football team used determination and a game-ending 25-yard field goal from junior Adrian Campos to defeat East Lincoln 28-26 at Thomas E. Brown Stadium on Friday night.

“I’m just so proud of their ‘never give up’ attitude,” said Maiden head football coach Will Byrne of his team’s effort. “That’s what it took. They never gave up. It was just an unbelievable effort for us not give up when we could have so many times in the game.”

The Blue Devils (6-3, 3-2 in the South Fork 2A) seized control just 13 seconds into Friday’s contest when junior Amarion Craig returned the opening kickoff 81 yards for a touchdown to make it a 7-0 game.

After giving up the early touchdown, the Mustangs (7-2, 3-2) responded and settled in, controlling the line of scrimmage for most of the first half. East Lincoln outgaining the Blue Devils 241-122 during the first and second quarters.

However, the Mustangs’ lead was only 13-7 at halftime — led by touchdown runs from running back Cole Barber and quarterback Justin Barnett.

Trading possessions to start the second half, Maiden used defense and a trick play on offense to help tie the game heading into the fourth quarter.

Barber fumbled a hand off near midfield during the Mustangs’ second possession of the third quarter, and it was recovered by the Blue Devils’ Cameron Day.

Maiden cashed in on the takeaway on a 6-yard touchdown pass from wideout Dylan Abernethy to fellow wide receiver Brennan James, but an unsportsmanlike penalty added 15 yards to the extra point, which was missed to keep the game knotted at 13-13.

East Lincoln responded at the beginning of the fourth quarter when Barnett found wide receiver Mikivi Phinx on a 4-yard touchdown pass, putting the Mustangs ahead 20-13 with just over 11 minutes left in the game.

Another 4-and-out for Maiden put East in the driver’s seat to pull away for good in the contest, but another takeaway by the Blue Devil defense — this time a forced fumble and recovery by James — sett his team up in Mustang territory.

During the ensuring Blue Devil drive, Abernethy converted a key 4th and 1 at the Maiden 28 by running 11 yards, and quarterback Ethan Rhodes finished the drive with a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Chris Morgan to make it a 20-19 game with 6:46 left following another missed extra point.

Byrne was pleased with Rhodes’ poise despite being pressured all game.

“He didn’t have a good first half,” Byrne said of Rhodes. “He got sacked multiple times. In the second half, he just stayed poised and made unbelievable throws when he needed to make them. He’s going to be a great quarterback.”

Needing another big defensive stop, the Maiden defense once again tried to halt the Mustang rushing attack, but East’s offensive line continued to control the trenches, allowing running back Lucas McConnell to score on a five-yard run with just under three minutes left.

However, the Mustangs continued the trend of missed extra points in the game, keeping the score within a touchdown — 26-19 — and leaving the door open again for Maiden.

With time winding down in the game, Rhodes went back to work quickly, eventually connecting with wideout Carson Hansley on a 39-yard touchdown pass that sent the Maiden sidelines and crowd into a frenzy.

Hansley — a 6-3 senior — gave Rhodes and his teammates credit for the touchdown, which was just his second of the season.

“It starts out with Ethan making a great throw and the line blocking perfectly,” Hansley said. “It was a great call by our coaches. The safety ran to the other side of the field. Ethan made a great throw. My teammates really helped me out on that.”

Byrne credits the play call of assistant coach Stephen Hensley and the play of both Rhodes and Hensley for the late-game score.

“It was a great call on the touchdown,” Byrne said. “Ethan did a good job. We were running five verticals and just throwing it quick in front of the safeties. Carson was making plays, and we just believed in him. They were keying on Dylan and keying on Brennan. Those are the receivers we throw to the most. Carson is a heck of a receiver, too. He went up and caught that ball. He catches it every time we throw it to him.”

Maiden went for a two-point conversion instead of the tie, but the pass from Rhodes was no good, leaving the Blue Devils with just 31.2 seconds left to get the ball back and score.

A perfect onside kick by the Blue Devils’ Ivan Chavez, who faked to his left before kicking it right, led to a mad scramble for the ball near the Maiden sideline and eventually a recovery by Abernethy, giving the Blue Devils hope for a chance at victory.

“Even after the failed two-point conversion, we said to just believe we were going to get the onside kick,” Byrne said. “(Chavez) has practiced that onside kick every single week. It was perfect. We recovered it and moved it down.”

The Blue Devils attempt at a comeback didn’t start off smoothly. A false start and a sack backed Maiden up into its own territory, creating a 2nd down and 22.

However, Rhodes would once again utilize a mistake-free passing game, overcoming the poor field position to set up a game-winning 37-yard field goal attempt for Chavez — the team’s long-range kicker.

A botched snap, though, forced Abernethy — who serves as holder on kicks — to tuck the ball and run for 12 yards to set up a closer field goal attempt this time for Campos.

“It was just a real heads-up play by Dylan, who is a heck of a player,” Byrne said. “He had a heck of a game. He didn’t have the numbers he usually has, but he’s just a great player and a great kid. He’s so savvy. He peaked up at the scoreboard because we are running right at it. That’s how smart he is. He saw that he could run enough and get out of bounds to give us some more yards to make that field goal closer.”

With 2.6 seconds left, the Blue Devils sent Campos out for the biggest field goal of his career, and Byrne gave the junior some words of encouragement before the kick.

“We told him that he was going to make it and that he would be the hero of the game,” Byrne said. “He was, and he made it. I’m just so happy for him. I believed that he was going to make it. I didn’t have any doubt.”

Campos fought through the adversity of missing an earlier extra point, delivering a high arching kick that went just past the crossbar, sealing his team’s come-from-behind conference victory as his teammates swarmed him on the field.

“It was a lot of pressure,” Campos said of his winning kick. “My heart was racing. Our coaches and teammates calmed me down. Thank God I got it in. It didn’t feel real. It was all thanks to the onside kick and offense to get me set up. It was a great team effort.”

Byrne called Friday’s game one of the craziest so far of his coaching tenure.

“It’s probably the wildest,” he said. “It’s a close second to the Newton win we had down here two years ago. This is a close second with just how crazy it was at the end.”

Next up for the Blue Devils is its traditional rivalry match up with Newton-Conover, which lost its first conference game of the season Friday in a match up of first-place teams against North Lincoln, 43-7.

Maiden has won four-straight games against the Red Devils, including a pair of three-point thrillers the past two seasons.

Despite Friday’s results, Byrne said the match up between his Blue Devils and the Red Devils will live up to expectations.

“You can throw the records out. It’s a rivalry,” he said. “We’re going to give them our best shot. They are going to give us their best shot. It should be a great game.”