Frank Payne could have been excused had he felt his heart in his throat late in Iroquois' 42-41 victory over visiting Starpoint Friday night in the Class A football quarterfinals.
Scrappy Starpoint, five minutes earlier trailing, 42-28, had just scored its second straight touchdown and was a kick away from sending it into overtime.
But not so fast.
"First, they go for the onside kick and they get it," said Payne, whose Chiefs improved to 7-1 and next weekend will face the winner of the Cheektowaga-Grand Island game. "Then after [Brandon] Bratek scored [on a 5-yard run], they went for the [conversion] kick and made it but we had lined up in neutral zone. So they get it back at the 1-1/2-yard line and they send their offense back on the field.
"Then Bratek goes up the middle for 2 but [Iroquois tackle] Brandon Daehn and [linebacker] Billy Desiderio stuffed him. He lost yardage, probably lost about 2 yards. I thought for sure they'd toss sweep for two."
So what was going through Payne's brain?
"I'm like "Oh my God,'‚" he said. "I called my safety over and told him this was the play of the year. If I was Starpoint, with Bratek running the way he had been, I'd have gone for the win, too."
If that wasn't enough drama, more was to come.
Starpoint had timeouts remaining and forced Iroquois to punt with 7 seconds remaining. A Spartan called for a fair catch, enabling Joe Scibilia to attempt a 65-yard field goal on a free kick on the final play.
Finally, the nuttiest game of the night was over.
"I'm thinking that if he makes that kick then they deserve to win the ballgame," Payne said. "But he shanked it to the left and it wasn't close. But my hat's really off to Starpoint. It was a wild football game, one of the wildest I've ever been around."
Bratek, the top career rusher in Starpoint school history, carried 23 times for 157 of his team's 366 offensive yards and scored twice.
"He's a real good back," Payne said. "And we weren't tackling well."
But even Bratek's efforts weren't enough to overcome the Chiefs' Brandon Murie, who rushed 32 times for 235 yards and four scores as Iroquois piled up 498 yards in total offense.
Starpoint (3-5) twice recovered kickoffs, the second one an onside kick that set up Bratek's final score. In the first half, Starpoint recovered a line drive that bounced off an Iroquois up man.
Desiderio made 12 tackles and scored a two-point conversion on a pass play late in the first half.
"We scored on every possession but I wasn't happy with the way we played defense," Payne said. "But we move on."
That's what it's all about at this time of year.