By David Wheeler/Special to the NEMS Daily Journal
BOONEVILLE – For most of four quarters, Saltillo sophomore A. J. Rye had his shoulder pads off. He was basically a spectator with bruised ribs.
But Rye threw his pads back on in overtime, kicking the winning point on the last play of the contest Friday to give the Tigers a 34-33 victory over the Booneville Blue Devils.
“He’s a money man,” Saltillo head coach Pat Byrd said. “He might not look the best doing what he does, but I’ll take my chances with him anytime.”
Rye coming off the bench barely overshadows the come-from-behind efforts of the Tigers, and most noteablely A. J. Hunt and Andrew Soper.
Hunt had a punt return for a score in the third quarter, and hauled in two scoring passes from Soper in the final four minutes of regulation to overcome a 13-point deficit.
The first scoring pass was a 27-yard strike with 3 minutes, 23 seconds to play, capping a 65-yard drive. The second was a 65-yard effort from Soper to Hunt, topping off a 95-yard drive with 38 seconds to play.
That tied the score at 27-27 on the TD, but Booneville blocked the extra point kick to send the contest into extra time.
“This was just players making plays,” Byrd said. “We dug ourselves a hole in the first half, but the kids kept fighting.”
In the extra period, Booneville had the ball first, scoring on the first play, a 10-yard run by Andrew Lambert. But straight-on kicker Andrew Smith hit the left upright with his effort.
Saltillo responded with Soper diving over for a 1-yard score. Rye, donned his pads and split the uprights to send the Tigers sideline into a wild celebration.
“I was pacing the whole game,” Rye said. “I was asked if I could go back in. I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous.”
Combining for three TDs, Soper and Hunt hooked up in the first quarter for a 19-yard score. Then the Booneville defense returned two passes for scores, Jordan Miller 30 yards and Lambert 41 yards later in the first period.
Hunt then returned a punt in the third quarter 68 yards to push Saltillo ahead. But Booneville responded with a 7-yard run by Lambert, and a 24-yard pass from A. J. Grizzard to Jazz Prather with 5:38 to play.