Simply put, Munford junior Jesse Savage had the game of his life Friday night.
He threw for completions on two fake punts, made all three of his extra points and made all three of his field goals, the third of which came in double overtime and gave the Cougars a huge 30-27 Region 8-5A win at home over Kirby.
Despite the massive game he had, after it was over all he wanted to talk about was his team.
“I just had to calm myself down and do what was best for the team,” Savage said when asked what was on his mind as he prepared to kick the game-winning 21-yard field goal. “I had to think about the team and do what I was supposed to.”
Speaking of the team, it was clearly the biggest win of the season for the Cougars (6-2 overall, 4-1 region). The win put Munford in a first-place region tie with Southwind and, assuming the Cougars beat winless Kingsbury in the regular season finale on Nov. 1, clinched at least a second-place region finish and home playoff game.
Savage kicked a 38-yard field goal with 7:30 left in the game to put Munford ahead 20-13, but Kirby (6-2, 2-2) scored four plays and two minutes later to tie the game.
Munford was forced to punt on its next possession and Kirby took possession at its own 29 with 1:05 left. A fumble on a trick play buried Kirby on its own two-yard line with four seconds left. Kirby quarterback Draylen Ellis, an Austin Peay commit, threw a pass to midfield from his own end zone as time expired.
Jaxon O’Neal scored on third and goal from the three on the first possession of overtime to put Munford ahead 27-20. Ellis threw a TD pass to Tamarious Brown on third and goal from the five to tie the score at 27-27.
Kirby got the ball again per overtime rules. On first down Munford senior Derek Ross pounced on a Kirby fumble to set up Savage’s game winner.
“We just needed a stop. We knew Jesse Savage is one of the best kickers in the region,” Munford head coach Nick Markle said. “ I told Jaxon to move us to middle of the field to make Jesse confident. It (the kick) was pure and true, right down the heart. Beautiful.”
The game did not start well for Munford.
Kirby returned the opening kick off for a touchdown, but it was called back on a penalty.
With 1:12 left in the first quarter, a bad punt snap went over the head off Savage and Kirby recovered in the end zone for a 6-0 lead.
Munford’s offense was struggling to move the ball, so Markle went to his bag of tricks.
Facing a fourth and two at the Munford 33, the Cougars lines up to punt. Savage did not punt. Instead he ran to his right and passed to Auvic White for 20 yards and a first down.
Three plays later O’Neal went 45 yards untouched for a touchdown that put Munford ahead 7-6 with 8:47 left in the half.
A fumble recovery by Munford junior Kelton Mason led to another Savage field goal. This one came from 27 yards as the second-quarter clock expired and gave Munford a 10-6 lead.
After Kirby went ahead 13-10 on an Ellis touchdown pass, Munford faced a fourth and seven at its own 31 with 1:28 left in the third quarter. Savage worked his magic on another fake punt, hitting White for a 69-yard TD pass and a 17-13 lead.
“We had to try and steal a possession because we knew their offense was dangerous,” Markle said. “Had two fake punts that paid off. We’ve been working on that stuff all week.”
When Savage lined up for the ensuing kickoff, he planned to kick it short to give his team a chance to recover. He slipped as he kicked it and Kirby’s players had trouble handling the bouncing ball. Senior Carson Roberson did not. He recovered at the Kirby 29, setting up Savage’s second field goal.
It was a moment of redemption of Roberson. He was the one who snapped the ball over Savage’s head early in the game.
Roberson, who also had a big game on the defensive side of the ball, was inconsolable after the bad snap that led to a Kirby touchdown. After the game, he ecstatic.
“I just saw the ball and got on it,” Roberson said. “I did what I had to do … It feels great for my seniors, leaving a legacy for the school.”
O’Neal led Munford’s rushing attack with 95 yards on seven carries. In addition to catching two passes 89 yards, White added 82 yards on 25 carries.
This is the sixth straight season Munford has qualified for the state playoffs and the fourth time in as many seasons with Markle as head coach. This will likely be just the second time, however, the Cougars have hosted a playoff game. The last time was two seasons ago when Munford beat Clarksville, a likely opponent again this season, in round one.
Munford has a chance to finish first in the region if Kirby and Southwind take losses in the final two weeks of the season.
“I love it,” Markle said after the game. “Our kids persevered. Three overtime games in a season is unheard of. We’ve been able to beat two really good teams in overtime. Being able to have a home playoff game after all the injuries and the things we’ve dealt with all season, I’m just really proud of our guys. They never gave up.”