Hardin Valley stays in playoff hunt with last-second victory over Farragut

Hardin Valley players race onto the field after a victory-sealing interception by junior Cartez Campbell on the final play of their 37-36 victory of Farragut on Thursday, Oct. 26. (Image: Travis Haston / 865 Preps)

In a matter of moments, the Hardin Valley student section went from sitting in stunned silence to storming the field.

The Hawks, needing a victory to remain in playoff contention, controlled much of the game, and yet managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Farragut erased a 22-point first half deficit to take the lead in the final minute, but junior quarterback Grayson Vaughn orchestrated a game-winning touchdown drive, capped by a decisive two-point conversion, to lead Hardin Valley to a 37-36 victory that keeps its season alive for at least another day.

“They were challenged, but they just bounced back and made plays,” Hardin Valley head coach Wes Jones told 865 Preps. “Sometimes you just have no words to explain the way you feel, and this is one of those moments. This is probably as good a win as we’ve had here.”

Hardin Valley’s fate now hinges on a game it has no control over. The only way it can reach the postseason is if Bearden loses to Morristown West.

The Hawks (5-5, 3-3 Region 1-6A) could have avoided this situation with a victory over the Bulldogs last week, but got “outplayed and outcoached” in a 42-3 rout, according to Jones.

They responded with a motivated effort to try and further their season despite facing off against last year’s Class 5A state champions.

“We laid it out there on the line and shot straight with them,” Jones said. “We didn’t have a chance if we didn’t win, and Farragut is a good football team, so we had to play with big-time effort.

“We challenged our kids and they responded. I can’t say enough about what this football team did tonight.”

In a season of ups and downs for Hardin Valley, it was fitting that its season was extended by Vaughn, a quarterback who has had his own troubles, most notably getting benched for freshman Zak Acuff against Bearden.

The junior, however, was the one tasked with keeping the Hawks season alive, trailing by seven with one minute, 20 seconds remaining, and he performed masterfully.

He converted a third-and-10 near midfield with a 13-yard yard completion to senior running back Aaron Dykes to put Hardin Valley in position to score as the time remaining dwindled. Then, with only 15 seconds left, Vaughn rolled to his left to avoid the incoming Farragut pass rush and hoisted a 28-yard strike to junior wide receiver Noah Moro.

“I was praying like I’ve never prayed before right before that play,” Vaughn said. “I knew it was a play we could achieve, but I got some pressure and rolled out, figuring somebody would roll out with me. Sure enough, Noah Moro ran to the end zone and I saw him.”

Junior wide receiver Noah Moro lunges toward the end zone for Hardin Valley’s last-second touchdown in the Hawks’ 37-36 victory over Farragut on Thursday, Oct. 26 (Image: Travis Haston / 865 Preps)

With 8.2 seconds left, Jones never hesitated in sending the offense back out for a game-winning two-point conversion. A Farragut timeout allowed the Hawks to analyze the defensive formation and adjust, resulting in an uncontested throw in the flat from Vaughn to junior fullback Travis Griffin.

“There was never doubt about going for two,” Jones said. “We thought if we had a look, we knew we had a good play that we could run the ball off tackle, but once we saw what they were lined up in, we made the decision during the timeout to throw the ball in the flat and it worked.”

Dykes, who rushed for 166 yards on 28 carries, propelled Hardin Valley to three-score lead in the first half, rushing for a pair of touchdowns and throwing for another, but over the past two seasons Farragut (8-2, 4-2) has made a name for itself by crawling out of sizeable deficits.

A four-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Josh Moses kickstarted the comeback and touchdowns on each of the Admirals’ next three drives tied the game at 29.

Sophomore wide receiver Jaden Gibbs celebrates with freshman offensive lineman A’koiyea Johnson in the end zone during Farragut’s 37-36 loss to Hardin Valley on Thursday, Oct. 26 (Image: Travis Haston / 865 Preps)

Junior running back Isaiah Gibbs fumbled on their next possession, but after forcing a turnover on downs, the Admirals drove 62 yards to take the lead with a 15-yard touchdown run by Moses before Vaughn’s heroics.

“We just started playing our game,” Farragut head coach Eddie Courtney said. “I thought we were ready to play, but that’s on me. I thought we had a good week of practice, but you have to give Hardin Valley credit. Our kids showed character to come back, but we just didn’t make the play when we had to.”

The loss clinches the Region 1-6A title for Dobyns-Bennett, leaving Farragut to open the playoffs with a home game against Cleveland, the three-seed out of Region 2-6A.

Meanwhile, Hardin Valley will have to wait to figure out its future, but regardless of whether it makes the playoffs or not, this win is moving the program forward.

“(If we don’t get in), how many times other than a state championship do you get to end the season with a win,” Jones said. “This means a ton to win a big game and beat a good team after the ups and downs this year. I’m real proud of our football team.”

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