By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ELWOOD, Ind. —
Bryce Montgomery never stopped believing.
In a game filled with big plays from big-name stars, the Alexandria sophomore trumped them all. Blitzing from the left side of Elwood’s offensive formation, Montgomery pulled down Panthers quarterback Alex Mireles on a 2-point conversion attempt with 28.3 seconds left, and the Tigers held on for a 27-26 victory.
Just four years after completing a third consecutive 0-10 campaign, Alexandria (8-3) will play in its first sectional final next week at Oak Hill (8-3).
“How cool is that?” Tigers head coach Pete Gast said as his players serenaded fans on the far sideline behind him.
Alexandria’s historic win didn’t come easily.
Elwood (7-4) intercepted Tigers quarterback Blaize Kelly twice in the final 7:24 but couldn’t erase a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit.
Both interceptions came from Panthers defensive back London Leavell, with the second turnover giving the home team the ball at its own 19-yard line with 2:43 left in the game.
After incurring two of its 13 penalties, Elwood faced third-and-26 at its own 35 with 1:39 to play. That’s when Leavell found tight end Jared Bourff for a 30-yard gain off a trick play and put the Panthers back in business.
A few snaps later, Elwood star Sammy Mireles rumbled 15 yards into end zone after receiving a swing pass from his brother to pull the Panthers within one point with less than 30 seconds to play. After a timeout, Elwood coach Marty Wells decided to go for two points and the win.
But the conversion was blown up when Montgomery tracked Alex Mireles down deep in his own backfield and made the biggest sack in program history.
Evan Hodges recovered the onside kick attempt moments later at his own 49-yard line, and the Alexandria celebration began.
“We have great coaches, great kids, great fans and a great community,” Gast said. “Everybody believed. I told them Monday we were going to win this football game.”
Kelly, who completed 23 of 35 passes for 300 yards and one score, put the Tigers in front with a 1-yard touchdown run on the game’s opening drive.
Elwood answered with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Alex Mireles to Bourff, and the visitors went back on top after a 7-yard scoring run by Hodges. He finished with 76 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.
Elwood tied the game with the only score of the second quarter, a 1-yard touchdown run by Sammy Mireles. The state’s all-time leading rusher went over the 8,000-yard mark for his career during the contest and finished his final high school game with 196 yards on 29 attempts.
Alexandria regained the lead for good on a 6-yard run by Hodges with 8:05 to play in the third quarter. Sammy Mireles answered with a 3-yard run just less than five minutes later, but the extra-point attempt was no good and the Tigers maintained a 21-20 advantage.
Kelly threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Thomas on fourth-and-goal with 11:50 to play in the game to extend the lead. The extra-point try was blocked, setting up the fourth-quarter drama and ultimately the Tigers’ unforgettable win.
“We have a great team,” Gast said. “We don’t have stars. We just have a great football team. They all believed, and I love these guys.”