Jason Nunley’s 30-yard Hail Mary pass as time expired found its way right into Luke Akers’ arms in the back of the end zone to give the Pineville Mountain Lions a wild 55-50 win over Cumberland Gap Friday night.
“I have a whole lot of respect for Coach McPherson and that group of Panthers. They are a tough, physical, disciplined group that plays the game the right way. They didn’t deserve to lose that game, you hate it for a great bunch of kids like that,” Pineville coach Jason Chappell said. “But for our kids it was such a game of ups and downs. It looked like we were going to pull away, then they made some adjustments and kind of figured us out. You can’t give up 50 and expect to win very many. Honestly, I’m really proud of our kids because man, they showed so much fight.
“We were on the wrong end of it with under a minute to go and found a way, praise the Lord. Sometimes that’s really all you can say.”
Akers, who played middle school ball with most of the Panther seniors, said all was thinking was he has to get to it as the ball sailed through the air.
“This game didn’t really mean much to our season, but for me it was one of the most important games I’ve ever played for sure,” he said. “That was a play we had never run, we just kind of drew it up during the timeout. It worked out.”
Nunley scrambled to his left to buy time and the receivers had to improvise. As the ball neared the end zone Kenyon Oden and a Cumberland Gap defender got tangled up tracking the ball near the middle of the field. Another defender reacted to Oden leaving Akers open as he crossed along the back line near the goal post to haul in the pass.
“It was a post with a wheel concept. Honestly, after Jason stepped up in the pocket the thing kind of broke down,” Chappell said. “Jason showed he’s got tremendous arm talent. He’s a blessed young man and showed he can do a lot of things. That last play probably shouldn’t have been complete, but the safety got turned around and Luke was able to go make a play. I’ve been on the other end of those and it’s tough. It feels pretty good to be on this side for once.”
Nunley, a freshman, completed 7 of 10 passes to six different receivers for 102 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. He also ran six times for 51 yards and two more TDs.
Senior running back Scooby Morris ran nine times for 167 yards and three touchdowns and also caught one pass for 16 yards.
Noah Caldwell ran ten times for 64 yards and a touchdowns and also caught a 29-yard touchdown pass in the game.
“Sometimes you’ve got to have players just go make plays, fortunately we’ve got several who can. Scooby had a big night, Noah had a big night, Eli Thompson had a big catch on a third down, Evan Biliter made a couple of nice plays,” Chappell added. “We’ve got some good players, sometimes the ball finds them and sometimes it doesn’t, but tonight we were able to make enough plays to win.”
It was a shootout from the start. Dylan Ellison returned the opening kick 79 yards for a touchdown and Ethan Slusher ran in the conversion to give Cumberland Gap a quick 8-0 lead.
Pineville answered as Nunley passed to Morris for 16 yards, Caldwell ripped off a 19-yard run and Morris scored on a 26-yard run. Luke Naylor’s kick made it 8-7 with 10:52 to go in the first quarter.
The Lions forced a punt and Morris got loose again and for a 31-yard touchdown run to for a 14-8 lead with 1:51 to play in the quarter.
Nunley scored on a 7-yard quarterback keeper with 11:06 to play in the second quarter. After a roughing the kicker penalty on the extra point, Caldwell ran in the conversion to put the Lions up 22-8.
The Panthers responded with a 9-play, 65-yard drive. Lance Owens passed to Logan Napier for a 4-yard TD and Slusher’s conversion made it 22-16 with 5:13 to play in the half.
Nunley completed a 9-yard pass to Kenyon Oden and then Morris broke free again for a 46-yard TD run. Naylor’s kick put the Lions up 29-16.
Ellison broke another long return to the Lions 34. Play action drew the Pineville defense in and Owens hit a wide open Napier for a 34-yard touchdown pass to make it 29-22 and that was the halftime score.
The scoring continued in the second half. Caldwell scored on a 29-yard pass from Nunley and Cumberland Gap’s Slusher scored on a 7-yard run that made it 36-30.
Nunley’s 4-yard TD run late in the third quarter pushed the lead to 43-30.
Cumberland Gap answered with another long pass from Owens to Napier set up a 14-yard TD run by Slusher.
An interception by CGHS freshman Brayden Painter set the Panthers up at midfield. Five plays later Owens scored on a 16-yard run. Slusher’s conversion run put Cumberland Gap on top 44-43 with 6:13 to play.
A 26-yard run by Morris with a late hit tacked on put the ball at the Panther 14. Three straight Caldwell runs produced a touchdown as he scored from four yards out. The conversion run was stopped so the Lions led 49-44 with 5:01 remaining.
Cumberland Gap used a nine-play drive to work their way down the field and Slusher scored from six yards out with 32.6 seconds left in the game. The conversion was stopped so the lead was 50-49.
Nunley scrambled once for four yards and then for 24 yards down to the Cumberland Gap 30 with 8.6 seconds to go. That set up his Hail Mary heave to Akers to win the game as time ran out.
Pineville (3-0) is scheduled to visit McCreary Central on Friday at 7:30 p.m.