When the Armada Tigers closed the gap to 19-6 with less than 30 seconds remaining in the half, head coach Kyle Rowley said he and his team were still confident. They had overcome even bigger deficits in less time before and they were ready to do it again against Croswell-Lexington.
“I was feeling really good because we got the ball, but with 30 seconds they go down and score and we made some big mistakes, but hey, you know the kids believe in it, and that's just what we do,” Rowley said. “We come together when times are tough. We come together when times are good. So we said just before, 'So why not? Right? Why not tonight?' Unfortunately didn't happen and that’s OK.”
The Pioneers put together an incredibly effective passing game to march downfield before the half. Junior quarterback Gavin Espinoza found senior receiver Trevor Soule who laid out for a 32-yard reception.
Just 2.5 seconds remained on the clock, and with a 19-6 lead, the Pioneers could’ve settled and headed for the locker room, but that’s not their brand of football.
Instead, Espinoza scrambled from eight yards out until the buzzer sounded. With no time remaining, he fired toward Soule again who lept above two Tigers for the touchdown.
“I had told Coach, ‘Give me the deep shots,’ because we didn't have time,” Soule said. “It's nice when Gavin can audible when we see different coverages. He tells me what to do and we just kind of work as a team. It’s nice to have a quarterback like that.”
Soule finished the night with 53 receiving yards for one touchdown.
“He looked at the coverage because they switched it up a little and said, ‘Act like you're running a post and run an out,’” Soule said. “And then, I mean, things didn't go as planned, Gavin was under pressure, but he knew where to look, I guess.”
The Pioneers would go on to win their home opener 34-12, improving to 3-0 on the season and 2-0 in the BWAC.
Cros-Lex head coach Mike LeGrow said that leaving game-time decisions like that up to his players is what will set them apart this fall.
“Coach-led teams are good, player-led teams are elite. That's exactly what it is. I mean, at the end of the day, what I call out here is completely a suggestion,” LeGrow said. “If my quarterback sees something…and audibles a pass or a run or whatever he wants to do, he sees what he sees. You're going to trust your guys.
“I just tell him at the end of the day, you better be right or we got problems,” LeGrow added, laughing.
For Espinoza, the freedom to make decisions like that gives him extra confidence when he’s on the field.
“Whoever LeGrow puts on the field, he is going to trust 100%,” Espinoza said. “When he makes a call and I don't think it's right, he trusts me to be able to switch it and audible with different plays. Having a coach like that is pretty big.”
Espinoza threw 14-for-25 on the night, totalling 202 yards and three touchdowns, one to Soule, another to junior Braylon Day (seven yards), and another to junior Jaxon Gonzales (29 yards). Leading the receivers was junior Nick Monzo with 56 yards on five receptions.
Espinoza also rushed for 38 yards and one touchdown, but leading the Pioneers on the ground was junior Gabriel “Belly” Groppi with 108 yards on seven carries and one touchdown.
As for Armada, sophomore quarterback Lucas Pratt threw 5-for-9 for 47 yards. Sophomore receiver TJ Seiler had 18 yards on three receptions, and fellow sophomore Drew Keding added 17 more on one reception.
The Tigers scored both of their touchdowns on the ground, first from senior Leo Andrews and the second by senior Vinny Fodale who had 48 yards on 11 carries. Leading the Armada offense, however, was senior Kyle Coenen who rushed for 72 yards on 11 carries.
“We're going to play our kind of football. We're going to get back after tomorrow morning,” Rowley said. “We’ve got a lot of football left. That’s the thing with high school football, if there's a big focus on one game, one game can ruin your season. We won't do that. All the credit to them, they're a great football team, but we're going to move forward and fix our mistakes and get back to it.”
The Pioneers (3-0, 2-0 BWAC) will take a bye week this Friday and look to prepare for Yale in two weeks. Armada (2-1, 1-1 BWAC) will be on the road again at Imlay City.