It is often said that it’s not how you start, but how you finish. The John Carroll University football team had to learn that the hard way Saturday as they surrendered a score on the last play of the game to fall to the Muskies of Muskingum College, 34-31.
With unseasonably warm weather conditions on Senior Day, spirits were high at Don Shula Stadium.
“The emotions were overwhelming,” said senior Frank Ross. “I’ll never have the same feeling of walking up those steps to play on Saturdays.”
The first half for JCU, however, was not as pleasant. While the Blue Streaks dominated almost every statistical category, both teams entered the locker room tied at 21. The Muskies in fact, mustered up only 66 yards of total offense and converted a meager two first downs.
Three JCU turnovers, including a 94-yard fumble return, were all converted into touchdowns by the visitors in the first 30 minutes.
Coming back for the final two quarters, JCU knew they needed to protect the ball better in order to give itself a chance.
John Carroll would find itself down quickly, however, as Muskingum took the opening kickoff and drove down the field and took its first lead of the game.
After a JCU field goal, both offenses would go stagnant as the teams exchanged punts in order to take control of field position.
With all of the excitement of the first half, it was difficult to determine if either of the teams had anything left in the tank.
The final 1:47 of the game certainly answered that question.
After re-entering the game, senior quarterback Jeff Javorek led JCU on an improbable drive, which included a crucial fourth down conversion by Ross who absorbed a vicious hit after making an 11-yard reception.
With 35 seconds to play, Javorek connected with a wide-open receiver, senior Chris Esparza, for a 43-yard touchdown putting the Blue Streaks ahead 31-28.
With 28 seconds remaining on the clock it appeared as though John Carroll’s senior leaders would come through and pull out a miraculous win.
Unfortunately, this Senior Day was to be memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Following a solid kickoff return and big pass completion, the game would come down to one final play.
Three seconds showed on the scoreboard, but it was plenty of time as Muskingum’s prayer was answered when quarterback Jake Burns completed the Doug Flutie-eque Hail Mary pass to Dwight Sutton.
As the Muskies swarmed the field in celebration, a look of shock and desolation came over JCU fans in attendance.
“There was dead silence and disappointment,” Esparza said of the locker room after the game. “It was by far the most devastating loss I have ever experienced.”
A day that had started out as a joyous celebration had turned into an emotionally regrettable experience for the 20-plus seniors on the team.
The team will conclude its season on Saturday when they travel to Westerville to take on Otterbein, ranked no. 23 in the country by d3football.com.
Playoffs are out of the question, but the team is still focused.
“We have to prepare like it’s week one of the season,” Ross said. “This group of seniors wants to go out with a win.”