Green Valley senior kicker Antoin Kealoha went through his routine, taking three steps backwards and two to the side. The Foothill marching band led the packed bleachers in a deafening cheer in an attempt to shake Kealoha’s focus.
“I honestly didn’t even hear them,” Kealoha said. “It was all me and my thoughts, but I wasn’t really nervous. I knew what was on the line but I knew I had been kicking well all day.”
Kealoha kicked the ball straight through the uprights to complete Green Valley’s unlikely comeback to defeat Foothill 26-24 Thursday night. The 31-yard field goal was the longest of the season for the kicker who contributed in more ways than one on Thursday.
The Gators trailed the Falcons 24-7 with only 8:10 to play in the game when they began their comeback. Running back Desmond Bowers, who didn’t have a single carry in the first half, started it off with back-to-back touchdown runs.
“He’s a tough kid,” Green Valley coach Brian Castro said. “He’s got a little bit different gear. We’ve been fortunate the last three games to be able to find the hot hand at running back, and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Bowers ran for 94 yards and the two scores, all in the second half, but it was the Green Valley defense that allowed the Gators to complete the come-from-behind win.
“The defense was our biggest factor,” Kealoha said. “They were able to create turnovers all game and they never quit on a play.”
Kealoha is normally the starting cornerback on the defense but switched to the offensive side during practice this week after the Gators suffered multiple injuries to key receivers.
“I just started learning the offensive plays on Monday but I came in and did whatever we needed,” said Kealoha, who caught two passes for 56 yards.
Thanks to interceptions by Braxton Harms, Israel Robinson and Nick Daniel, the Gators found themselves down only three points late in the fourth quarter with a chance to tie the game with a field goal.
Instead the holder tossed the ball back to now-converted quarterback Kealoha, who completed the pass only to have the receiver knocked out of bounds at the one-yard line, turning the ball back over to Foothill.
Two plays later the Gators defense stepped up again, tackling Foothill running back Issac Oliva in the end zone for a safety to cut the deficit to 24-23.
Green Valley was unable to convert on the following possession, so the Falcons got the ball back with a chance to ice the game. Junior linebacker Reyden Morett made one more highlight play for the Gators defense, stripping Jordan Blakely of the ball.
That set up Kealoha’s game-winning field goal.
“Today was the best I’ve kicked in my life,” Kealoha said. “From the first (point after attempt) on, I was hitting them dead center, perfect. This is the best I’ve ever kicked so I wasn’t nervous.”
The win clinched the No. 2 seed in the Southeast League for Green Valley, and they will host Valley in the first round of the playoffs next Friday.
It wasn’t pretty — overcoming a 17-point deficit in the final quarter and relying on a cornerback to catch, pass and kick his way to victory, but the Gators survived.
“(Kealoha) really came through for us tonight,” Castro said. “He caught the pass to get us down there, then came back and made a big-time field goal. He did a hell of a job.”