FLORENCE — Matthew Mellette’s dad always told him that winners want the ball when the game is on the line.
So when Florence head coach Paul Smith was deciding on which player would attempt the 27-yard game-winning field goal against Troy on Friday night, Mellette demanded it.
“I missed the first two extra points and when coach asked if I wanted to kick it, I said ‘Yes, sir, I want to — give me the ball,” said the senior wide receiver.
Mellette lined the ball through the uprights with no time remaining to lift Florence to a 37-36 win over Troy at Stampede Stadium.
“(Mellette) told me he wanted to do it and I told him, “‘You’re gonna make it,’” Smith said. “Big-time players make big-time plays and he is a big-time player.”
Buffaloes senior quarterback Kaleb Hardy led Florence (3-2, 1-1 in 13-2A, Div. I) on two fourth quarter drives to take the lead, the second of which was the 10-play drive that led to the game-winning field goal.
“We had plenty of time,” Smith said. “We had two timeouts and in this offense you’re never done. I told Hardy not to be afraid to run the football and he wasn’t.”
The first was a 12-play drive that gave Florence the lead with just under seven minutes remaining in the game.
Hardy ran for 48 yards on the drive — 20 coming on the go-ahead touchdown.
“Coach told me to watch for openings to run and we made plays when we needed to,” Hardy said.
Hardy carried the ball 21 times for 170 yards and a touchdown. He also added 100 yards through the air with a scoring pass to Mellette in the third quarter.
“There are no words for it right now. I am just so proud of my teammates because we worked so hard and proved that no matter what, you have a chance,” the senior quarterback said.
Troy ran for 525 yards on 42 carries, but kept shooting itself in the foot with the turnovers and penalties.
Troy (2-3, 0-2) fumbled the ball six times, with the Buffs recovering four, and the Trojans were penalized for 80 yards. Each flag seemed to come just when one of its running backs slashed Florence for a big gain.
The Trojans were able to build a nice lead when senior running back Bodazypha Farmer carried the ball four times, with the last one resulting in a 1-yard touchdown run that doubled the Trojan lead to 14-0. The score was set up by a 30-yard Jeff Stark run that put the ball at the Florence 10-yard line — 3 yards later, Farmer scored.
The Buffs needed a big play and got it on the ensuing kickoff.
Senior Jimmy Struble received the ball at his own 10-yard line, made a couple cuts and ran down the left sideline for a 90-yard return that made the score 14-6 after Mellette’s extra-point attempt was tipped at the line of scrimmage and sailed wide left. Troy answered with an 11-play touchdown drive that culminated in a Kyle Whitley 3-yard run to put the Trojans up 21-14.
The Buffs recovered three of the five first-half Trojan fumbles. But were only able to take advantage of one. After Troy’s Whitley fumbled the ball away on his own 46-yard line. Struble scored his second first-half touchdown from 1-yard out on fourth-and-goal to even the score at 14-14 with six minutes remaining in the half.