KINGMAN - The Kingman Academy of Learning's football team added another memorable page to its history book with a Homecoming game that will likely stay in its top-10 list of best games for years to come.
Facing the defending ACYFL champion Mesa Storm, KAOL proved it belonged on the same field with the best of the best last Saturday night, scoring 24-unanswered points in the second half before Mesa scored with 14 seconds left in the game for a 42-36 win.
"It was probably the most exciting game I've coached at the high school level," KAOL coach Bill Prichard said. "This team showed a lot of heart. There were a lot of naysayers at the beginning talking about how these kids were soft and it wouldn't take much to get them down, but they were proven wrong on Saturday night. We really came together as a team last week."
Playing a team that had not allowed an opponent to score more than 16 points all year, Kingman Academy stayed toe-to-toe with the champs, answering each of Mesa's touchdowns with their own trips to the end zone. KAOL quarterback Kevin Schoonover scored on runs of 3 and 65 yards to keep the game tied 12-12 early in the second quarter, but the Storm ended the first half with three scores, including a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown, to go up 36-12 at the break.
"We just sat at halftime and didn't say a word for a while," Prichard said. "They looked at me, but ultimately I decided no halftime speech would be enough and they would have to do this for themselves."
Whatever was or wasn't said at halftime worked on freshman Dexter Jackson. KAOL's defense forced Mesa to punt on its first series deep in its own territory, and Jackson broke through the line to block the punt and return the ball 10 yards for a touchdown.
"Dexter really turned the game around," Prichard said. "It was especially momentous in that we couldn't figure things out on defense, so when we decided we were going to go all out and block that punt it was a coming of age for those guys."
The Tigers scored again on their next offensive possession when Schoonover paid the price for a 39-yard touchdown strike to Steven Briseno, and tied the game at 36-apiece with 1:35 to play on a 10-yard run by Alex Lemelin.
"Our O-line did a fantastic job against some of the biggest men I've ever seen in football uniforms. We easily gave up 350 pounds across the board, and I don't think we gave up too many sacks that night."
Lemelin's score could have easily been the go-ahead score, but KAOL fumbled the ball at the 1-yard line on the previous drive. Instead, Mesa took advantage of a counter play that had been working all night and a crucial late hit penalty on the Tigers to score with only seconds to play. Kingman's last-chance pass fell incomplete.
Schoonover finished 7-of-22 passing for 116 yards and a touchdown, with 160 yards and two TD's on the ground. Lemelin carried the ball 16 times and caught four passes for 180 total yards to lead the Tigers. Defensively, Matt Higuera and Chris Hatton each recovered a fumble, and safety Ben Williams led the team in tackles with seven.
KAOL hosts Tempe at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Southside Park.