Iroquois coach Frank Payne did not have any doubts about punting the ball, even though his team was trailing by three points with less than four minutes to play. He envisioned his defense forcing a three-and-out and giving his offense one final shot.
It didn't work out quite like that, but Payne and his Chiefs did come away with a remarkable comeback, winning the Sectional VI Class A final over Lew-Port, 18-14, Friday in front of an estimated 1,500 fans in Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Josh Hochadel's punt sent Lancers return man Steve Hurtgam backward in an awkward fashion, and the ball bounced off his face mask. Andy Wolffe fell on the ball for the Chiefs, giving them great field position at the Lew-Port 19.
Trailing, 14-11, Payne called for a toss sweep on second down. But senior quarterback Matt Baker had another idea.
"He came over to me and said, 'No, run play action,' ", said Payne. "So, I said, 'Go ahead Baker.' "
The result a 17-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to Lou DePlato in the front-right corner of the end zone. The Chiefs' senior wideout fought off the defender and made a Randy Moss-like jump ball snag.
Kyle Shevlin's extra point gave Iroquois an 18-14 lead with 2:36 remaining.
"(DePlato) made a (heck) of a catch," said Baker, who threw for 74 yards on 6-of-11 passing. "The cornerback recovered, but (DePlato) made a great play to catch that ball in the end zone."
DePlato, whose only catch Friday was the touchdown, did not see much playing time during the first seven weeks of the season. But since the regular-season finale, he's been a mainstay.
"When we put him in the game, he made us a different team," said Payne.
Kyle Shevlin's interception on Lew-Port's final drive sealed the victory for Iroquois (8-2), which advanced to the Far West Regional. The Chiefs will face the Section V champion in Ralph Wilson Stadium at 4 p.m. next Saturday.
Lew-Port, which got touchdowns from Dan Gaffney and Hurtgam, had what appeared to be a comfortable lead, 14-3, near the end of the third quarter. But an interception of a Mitch Bunce pass by Iroquois' Brian Craig put the ball on the Lancers' 7.
Iroquois cashed in on the turnover, as Baker hit Hochadel with a 3-yard touchdown pass. The duo connected again on the Chiefs' two-point conversion, cutting the Lew-Port lead to 14-11.
The Lancers chewed up over five minutes of clock to begin the fourth quarter, but their drive stalled at the Iroquois 15 when Wolffe intercepted a fourth-down pass at the 2-yard line.
After moving the ball out to the 20, the Chiefs faced a fourth-and-9. Payne elected to punt the ball, banking on his defense and his remaining three timeouts. The ensuing turnover worked out even better.