Senior Day 2012 was almost a day to never forget as the Highland Cavaliers hosted the No. 1 ranked Georgetown College Tigers.
The Tigers came into the ball game having won nine games in a row and outscoring opponents 429-121, while scoring 77 points in two games this season.
The Tigers opened up the game with a 52 yard kickoff return by junior Anthony Sandoval, which gave them good field position with the ball placed on the Cavs’ 46 yard line.
The Cavs’ defense looked to hold up as they forced the Tigers into a fourth and two, but the Tigers went for it gaining, 10 yards on senior Adam Schmitz’s run.
The Tigers would later use a pass interference call on the Cavs’ defense to set up a nine-yard touchdown pass from sophomore Neal Pawsat to senior Chris Gohman to take an early 7-0 lead with 11:37 left to play in the first quarter.
In response, senior Marcus Bratton returned the kickoff 48 yards and two plays later, freshman running back Connery Swift put the Cavs on the board with a 49-yard rushing touchdown. Junior Paul Melshen’s extra point attempt tied the ballgame at 7-7.
Two plays into the second quarter, the Cavs would strike again as Cullen Lavoi found freshman Julian Stewart on a fade route in the corner of the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown pass which gave the Cavs a 14-7 lead.
The Cavs looked to catch a huge break on the first drive of the second quarter by the Tigers as junior Christian Dejarnette picked off a Pawsat-tipped pass.
The Cavalier fans’ excitement was short lived as the officials called pass interference on the Cavs and the interception was overruled.
The Tigers then used two big pass plays by Pawsat to tie the ballgame up at 14 apiece as Pawsat found junior Branden Burdette for a 25-yard touchdown pass.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Tigers caught another break as sophomore Terrence Taylor forced a Bratton fumble on the return.
Tiger sophomore Kenneth Lockard picked up the loose ball and returned it for a nine-yard touchdown.
After the extra point, the Tigers took a 21-14 lead over the Cavs with 10:24 left until halftime.
After the kickoff, the Cavs looked to answer right away. The Cavs moved the ball down the field efficiently, highlighted by a 15-yard pass interference call on the Tiger defense and a big 12-yard run by Lavoi.
The Cavs put together what turned out to be a record-breaking drive as Melshen connected on a 41-yard field goal attempt and broke the school record of field goals in a career with 18.
The Tigers took the kickoff, and using only five plays, found the end zone once again.
Pawsat completed a 20-yard pass to Schmitz to set up a 43-yard touchdown pass to Burdette, his second touchdown catch of the day and made the score 28-17 over the Cavs.
After a Tigers score, the Cavs answered back with an 82-yard kickoff return by junior Michel Steele which set up a 26-yard field goal for Melshen, and pulled the Cavs eight heading into halftime.
Coming out of halftime, the Tigers’ offense proved to be too much for the Cavs as they scored 14 unanswered points on rushing touchdowns from Schmitz and senior Melvin Posey.
The Tigers caught another break in the third quarter when Cavs’ punter senior Dean Hogan’s punt hit off of a Tiger defender, but the Cavs couldn’t fall on the ball.
The missed opportunity led to a touchdown by Posey.
Hogan said he has enjoyed his tenure as the Cavs starting punter for the last four years and has broke several school records.
“I came in as a freshman and got the opportunity to start,” Hogan said. “I took advantage of that and got better each day.”
The Cavs controlled the ball for over 21 minutes in the third quarter, but couldn’t find the end zone as the Tigers took a 42-20 lead going into the fourth quarter.
“[I’m] extremely proud of the effort,” defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton said. “The guys played hard all game and did the best they could by staying upbeat on the sidelines.”
The Tigers recovered a Zach Cochran fumble inside the Cavs’ 20 yard line and improved their lead to 49-20 over 6:32 left to play.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Cavs put together one of the best drives of the game.
Lavoi marched his team down field with an array of passes including four to Steele, who caught 10 balls for 110 yards in the game.
Cochran finished off the 85-yard drive with a one-yard rushing touchdown. Cavs fell victim on Senior Day 49-27, leaving the seniors without a win on their home field this season.
“I can’t say enough of how hard our guys played today and how much they care about each other,” Hamilton said.
His players agreed.
“It has been a ride,” Comer said. “I have made a lot of friends and I wish everyone this best.”
Lavoi finished the game on 23 of 35 passing for 280 yards and a touchdown.
“I learned a lot this season,” Lavoi said. “Each game was something new and [a] different learning experience.”
Lavoi had one of his most successful passing games in a Cavalier uniform and Lusk was pleased with his effort.
“Playing a freshman is like a roller coaster ride with peaks and valleys,” said Head Coach Dewey Lusk. “Today was a peak.”
Swift finished with 61 yards rushing and a touchdown. Steele would finish with 218 all-purpose yards with 110 in the air and 108 on returns. The Cavs scored a season high 27 points.
“We played a heck of a game as a team,” Lavoi said. “We haven’t really done that this year.”
Defensively, freshman Nick Smith would lead the Cavs with 6.5 tackles, a forced fumble, two pass breakups and an interception. Seniors Vance Gibbs and Derek Comer would combine for 9.5 tackles for the Cavs.
The Cavs finished the season 3-8 and 1-4 in Mid-South, but would do something most teams were unable to do with the Tigers this season — score on their defense and hold their offense in check.
“It goes to show you, when a whole group decides they want to play together, what they can accomplish,” Lusk said.