Reid Golson closed out a record-setting career by throwing for three touchdowns and running for another as Southwestern Assemblies of God University rallied for a thrilling 38-34 triumph against No. 25 Bacone College on Saturday night.
The senior led the Lions on touchdown drives on their final three possessions. The last was capped with game-winning 26-yard strike to junior Dylan Moore with 1:50 remaining in the game.
Needing a touchdown to pull out a fourth straight win over the Lions, quarterback Karl Birkenfield marched Bacone to the SAGU five-yard line. His first down pass was almost intercepted by Dalton Snyder, of Ennis, but a teammate deflected it away.
With 13 seconds remaining and the outcome hanging in the balance, the Lions defense stared fate in the face and made history on the next play.
Senior defensive end Ike Caston forced Birkenfield out of the pocket, chasing him towards the right sideline. The six-foot-three-inch quarterback, who scored eight times on rushes this season, cut upfield.
With Caston in hot pursuit from behind and sophomore linebacker Jeremiah Maat charging head-on at the five, Birkenfield fumbled. Freshman lineman Ethridge Brooks saved the day by pouncing on the loose ball at the four-yard line to secure the Lions’ first winning season.
“What a tremendous way to end the season,” SAGU football coach Jesse Godding said. “Bacone is a great team and have proved it over and over this year.
The Lions comeback from a 27-17 deficit entering the fourth quarter started with a 13-play, 77-yard scoring drive.
Golson drilled a 16-yard ost-pattern pass to junior wide receiver Jeremy McDonald with 13:34 to go.
Following Birkenfield’s third touchdown toss with 8:31 remaining, the Lions were in a 34-24 hole.
The Lions traveled 64 yards in 10 plays with Troy Griffin punctuating the trip in an eight-yard burst up the middle.
SAGU forced a three-and-out and took over at the Tribe’s 48 after a 34-yard punt.
That set up the historic drive to pay dirt.
Bacone, however, almost spoiled the Lions’ dream.
Facing a fourth and 10 from the 48, Golson, unable to find an open receiver, dashed to his left, then forward. He was forcefully met at the 38-yard line by Donyea Hamilton.
Officials called for the chains to determine whether the signal caller had gained enough for a new set of downs. He did, by three or four inches.
Kris Bigham picked up seven yards and Golson lasered a five-yarder to McDonald for a first down at the 26.
“We decided to take a strike from there,” offensive coordinator Frank Tristan said. “We hoped to catch them off guard with a shot into the end zone.”
They did. Moore leapt to snatch the ball away from cornerback Cam Onic, who had covered him well up until that moment. The six-foot-two-inch, 220-pounder landed just inside the goal-line pylon in the northeast corner for the game-winning touchdown.
Golson and Moore also connected in the first quarter, a bullet over the middle from five yards out. It gave SAGU a 10-0 lead.
The lead remained at 10, 17-7, when Golson converted a fourth-and-two. He slashed inside the right tackle for a six-yard toucdhown run in the second quarter.
Bacone, who pulled starting quarterback Kyle Kuban after he was picked off twice in his first five throws, took over. Birkenfield scored twice on the ground and threw a touchdown pass for a 27-17 lead with four minutes left in the third quarter.
The victory gave SAGU their first winning season at 6-4. The Warriors ended at 7-4. A 4-1 mark in the Central States Football League elevated the team to second behind Langston University (6-4 / 5-0).
It was a sweet ending for veteran Godding and longtime defensive coordinator John Allen. Both were doused with coolers of ice water by the players as the clocked reached zeroes.
Godding has advanced the program in recent years with three four-win seasons.
“Saturday night was evidence of the belief these guys have in another,” Godding said in praise of his team. “It was a culmination of a lot of hard work over the past four weeks and it paid off for them.”
Godding credits his team’s defense for standing tall at critical situations in the game.
“Our defensefought and fought all night long against a very talented offense,” Godding said. “Their efforts and willingness to play with courage paid dividends throughout the game.”
After beginning the season 0-2, the Lions won six of their last eight games. They were 2-4 before closing with four consecutive triumphs.
“I am very proud of how this team fought back from a 2-4 start. The week following Austin College (a 27-17 loss) was the toughest week mentally and emotionally that we had this season,” Godding said. “But we had some great senior leadership that continued to give effort and pursue greatness physically and spiritually. That culminated in a four game win streak to end the season.”