The Raiders scored two touchdowns in the last 3½ minutes of regulation to erase a two-touchdown deficit, then went on to beat east Cobb rival Wheeler 35-28 in overtime in a Region 5AAAAAA battle at Raider Valley.
K.K. Brooks’ 4-yard touchdown run in overtime provided the winning margin for Walton (4-3, 3-1). That was after Brooks scored on a 1-yard run with 27 seconds left in regulation to tie the game.
The win allowed the Raiders to take a share of the region lead with Lassiter and Etowah, though the Trojans would own the tiebreaker with Walton. The Raiders will play Etowah on Nov. 1.
It was a late wakeup call for Walton, which struggled to get its offense moving through most of the game, before finally finding a spark in the final minutes of regulation to pull off the comeback and hand Wheeler (2-5, 0-4) its fifth straight loss.
“I told the kids at halftime that we had to be more consistent,” Walton coach Rocky Hidalgo said. “But we waited until about 4 minutes left to turn it on, and we got the momentum, and it was hard for (Wheeler) to stop. I’m proud of the way we finished the game, but we still have a lot of work to do. We’re making so many mental mistakes, so many errors. We want to see how good a team we can be, and to do that, we have to cut those errors out. We could have a really good football team. I think we’re really close.”
A victory seemed out of the question for Walton after Wheeler’s Allen Artis intercepted a Price Wilson pass and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown. Victor Alves kicked the extra point, to give the Wildcats a 28-14 lead with 3:29 remaining in the game.
Beginning its next series at the 50-yard line with 3:16 left, Walton started out with a bang as Chad Clay took a lateral from Wilson and threw a 20-yard pass to D.J. Smith to move the ball down to the Wheeler 30.
Wilson proceeded to throw a 6-yard pass to Brooks, an 11-yard strike to Smith and a 7-yard pass to Bailey Wolff before connecting again with Wolff on a 6-yard scoring strike with 2:03 left. Christian Lucas’ kick helped the Raiders cut the Wheeler lead to 28-21.
Walton got a big break on Wheeler’s ensuing series, recovering a fumble on the first play of the drive and taking over at its own 44 with 2:03 left.
The Raiders took 11 plays to march down the field and completed the drive with Brooks’ 1-yard scoring run and Lucas’ kick with 27 seconds left, tying the game at 28-all and forcing it into overtime.
It was all Brooks on Walton’s first and only offensive series of overtime.
With Walton starting at the Wheeler 15, Brooks carried the ball in all five of the Raiders’ plays — moving the ball down the field on runs of 5 and 4 yards, then being stopped for no gain on his third carry before gaining 2 yards on his fourth attempt and scoring on a 4-yard scamper.
That was all the Raiders needed as they stopped Wheeler on downs on the ensuing series to clinch the win.
For Hidalgo, the lateral pass that Walton executed on the first play of its series after falling behind 28-14 was the turning point of the game.
“With about 4 minutes left, we still felt like we could score two,” he said. “I think the lateral is something we knew could work. We practiced it in drills and it paid off.”
Brooks scored on a 13-yard run with 7:27 remaining in the first quarter as Walton took a 7-0 lead.
But Wheeler came back with two touchdowns in the second quarter to take a 14-7 advantage, with Ryles Kirkland throwing a 25-yard scoring pass to Devontae Jackson with 6:00 remaining and then Jackson finding the end zone on a 2-yard run with 40 seconds left.
The Wildcats increased their lead to 21-7 on a 3-yard touchdown run by Jackson with 2:45 remaining in the second quarter before Walton cut the advantage to 21-14 with a 17-yard scoring strike from Wilson to Clay as time ran out in the first half.