Getting ready for football: Davie pulled off insane comeback in ’08

Published 1:19 pm Tuesday, August 1, 2023

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By Brian Pitts

Enterprise Record

As we get ready for the 2023 Davie football season, here’s a look back at one of the all-time games, a 50-49 overtime win at Page in 2008 after Davie trailed by 26 at halftime.

Holy cow, Davie’s football team did the craziest thing in a big nonconference showdown at Page in 2008.

The War Eagles could not have played worse in the first half as they dug a 34-8 halftime deficit. They could not have played better in the second half. An insane comeback saw them score 28 unanswered points in a span of 7:34 and ultimately survive 50-49 in overtime. It remains the largest comeback in Davie’s 68-year history.

“Do you know what you just did?” coach Doug Illing  screamed  to his ecstatic players in the postgame huddle. “If you believe and you trust one another, anything can happen. You did something that ain’t never been done before. You made history.”

Davie running back James Mayfield and Page receiver Brad Workinger had go-ahead and tying touchdowns, respectively, in the final 2:56 of regulation. Then Page quarterback Will Newman sneaked in from the 1-yard line in overtime. Then Chase Sampson made one of Davie’s biggest plays by blocking the extra point. On the OT possession for Davie, quarterback Zach Illing and receiver Joe Watson hooked up in the end zone for the third time, Michael Rowe drilled the tiebreaking extra point and elation poured out of the War Eagles and their faithful fans.

“That was unbelievable,” offensive coordinator Barry Whitlock said. “That’s one to remember. How do you win after you’re down 34-8 playing 12-minute quarters? It’s hard to believe.”

“That’s something you don’t forget,” defensive line coach Randy Athey said. “I feel bad for the people that left early.”

Davie, ranked fifth in the 4-A state, improved to 5-1. Page slipped to 3-3.

It was a vintage game for the Illing/Watson combination. Illing went 20 of 32 for 377 yards, throwing four TDs and no interceptions. Watson made eight catches for 141 yards. Illing completed at least two passes to five different receivers, including Mayfield, Jarrell Marshall, Darius Wilson and PJ Neely. Page limited Mayfield to 55 rushing yards, but Mayfield compensated with 104 receiving yards.

Page put up its own eye-popping numbers, with Newman going 21 of 37 for 303 yards, Perry Fryer rushing for 135 yards and Jeremy Collie making eight catches for 118 yards.

Davie fans walked out in a disbelief because the War Eagles looked entirely overmatched in the first half. It was 27-0 two minutes into the second quarter, and Page made it 34-8 with 1:07 left in the half.

“We were letting them do whatever they wanted,” D. Illing said. “It was embarrassing. That’s why I made them run all the way up to the locker room. I told them not to stop. The only reason we stopped is because they had the gate locked and we couldn’t get through it. It was embarrassing.”

While Page appeared headed for an easy win, Davie pulled off a magic trick in the second half. Its tweaked-up defense became absolutely smothering, and Illing carved up a highly-regarded defense with 270 yards on 13-of-20 passing in the second half.

“We had a good talk at halftime,” outside linebacker Matt Speer said. “We went back to our old defense.”

“Coach Illing said: ‘Believe,’” said outside linebacker Santana Arnold, one of the heroes with a fumble-recovery touchdown and an interception.

What’s remarkable is Davie rallied against a high-powered opponent that featured two Division-I prospects on the defensive line. Something even more remarkable about the furious rally: Davie’s first possession of the second half ended with a sack and a partially-blocked punt.

When the Davie defense forced a three-and-out, the improbable began. Illing swung a pass to Mayfield for 27 yards, then found Watson for 35. Cornerback TJ Todd, who boasted in the Greensboro News & Record that Page’s defense was the “Red Death,” was repeatedly burned by Watson, who made a 6-yard catch in the end zone. Mayfield’s two-point run cut the deficit to 34-16 with 7:09 left in the third quarter.

“(Todd) couldn’t handle Joe,” Z. Illing said.

Page lost 9 yards on a sack by a blitzing Arnold, Page punted and Watson beat Todd for 35 yards. Then Illing and Wilson hooked up for an unbelievable 34-yard play down the left sideline to the Page 2. It was 34-22 when Mayfield, who had three TDs after missing the previous three games with a shoulder injury, scored on the next play.

“How did Zach get it in there between two guys?” Whitlock said of the pass to Wilson.

Skeeter Montgomery, a running back who provided a big boost in his first action at nose guard, dropped Fryer 2 yards behind the line. Pressure by Speer and Montgomery forced an incompletion, and Page was punting for the third time in three third-quarter possessions.

“At halftime we talked about believing in each other and playing our assignments,” linebacker Chris Sponaugle said. “Coaches made adjustments and we had faith in one another.”

With Page bringing heat up the middle, Illing backpedaled, coaxed the defense closer and floated a screen to Mayfield, who rambled 47 yards to the end zone. Suddenly, it was 34-29 with 1:09 left in the third.

“Zach did a good job of finding a window around (6-5, 240-pound Gabe King) and (6-4, 270-pound Chris Jasperse),” D. Illing said.

Now Davie was smelling blood. Sampson and Zach Long dropped Fryer after 2 yards and Tanis Jefferies squeezed Newman on the edge – a loss of 5. After Collie momentarily restored order for Page with a 40-yard catch-and-run, lineman Justin Miller made the hit of the game. Newman ran an option and a Miller hit dislodged the ball. Arnold scooped it and lumbered 45 yards to paydirt.

“I used the swim move to get over him, and I swatted with my left hand when I saw that he was going to pitch it,” Miller said.

“They work on that in turnover circuit, and I’m glad to see it work on the field,” coach Illing said.

Arnold came out of nowhere, grabbed the ball and gave Davie a 36-34 lead. “Coach always says hustle to the ball,” Arnold said. “And I got the perfect bounce.”

The drama was just beginning. Cornerback Perry James recovered a Fryer fumble at the Davie 25, but four plays later, Long airmailed a snap over punter Rowe’s head and into the end zone. Rowe alertly kicked the ball out of bounds, preventing a possible Page touchdown and giving the Pirates a game-tying safety.

Page took the ensuing kick and moved to the Davie 29. With the fourth-quarter clock under five minutes, Arnold saved the day by intercepting a pass intended for Collie at the Davie 25 and returning it 24 yards.

“They ran that (slant) a couple plays before,” Arnold said. “I messed up on it because I didn’t jam the No. 3 receiver and look at the No. 1 receiver. Coach said if I did what I had to do I’ll have an interception.”

Mayfield took another swing pass for 15 yards and Watson hauled in a 16-yarder. Two plays later, Mayfield rode left tackle Lewis Favre’s blocking and thundered 20 yards for a 43-36 lead at 2:56. While the ground game had been bottled up all game, Mayfield broke free when it mattered most.

“Coach Whitlock saw No. 99 (King) gassed and knew we could block him,” D. Illing said.

Unfazed, the Pirates covered 66 yards in two minutes, tying the game at 43-43 on a 21-yard catch by Workinger.

Now two exhausted teams had to hunker down in overtime. After Page won the toss, Fryer bolted 9 yards to the 1. Newman sneaked in for a 49-43 Page lead.

But in another breathtaking moment for the War Eagles, Sampson blocked the point-after try.

“Me, Tanis and Miller all lined up in the A gap beside the center,” Sampson said. “They blocked down and I just went around.”

Davie hearts skipped a beat when Illing botched a handoff on first down. Mayfield won a scrum for the ball, but Davie lost 4 yards back to the 14. But on second down, Illing hit Watson on a crossing route in the end zone, and then Rowe’s PAT gave Davie a lifetime thrill.

“Man, I don’t even have words for it,” Sponaugle said. “I can’t describe what I’m feeling right now. It’s the best feeling in the world.”

When Rowe sent the extra point straight down the middle, jubilant fans ran onto the field as teammates gave one another bear hugs.

“I started worrying about the defense cramping,” D. Illing said. “But they found a way to gut it up, forget the cramps and play football.”