The football players, coaches, cheerleaders, fans — heck, everyone associated with East Newton football — probably had the same word in mind last Friday night.

Finally.

In the first three weeks of the football season, the Patriots (1) lost to Hollister on a hitch-and-pitch passing play with 12 seconds left; (2) surrendered the lead to Aurora with four minutes left; and (3) lost to McDonald County on the game’s final play.

And in the regular-season finale, the Patriots had a chance to tie the game with Springfield Catholic but threw an interception at the 1-yard line with about 1 1/2 minutes remaining.

But in the Class 2 District 3 first-round game last Friday night at Houston, East Newton finally had some good late fortune.

The Patriots scored the tying touchdown and kicked the go-ahead extra point with 29 seconds remaining to beat Houston 21-20 at Houston.

“The kids have been punched in the gut a bunch of times,” Patriots coach Kyle Wood said. “They kept coming back, which is so cool to see.”

The game-winning touchdown drive capped a 77-yard march in the last three minutes.

“We had a bunch of big catches,” Wood said. “Jeremiah Stewart (quarterback) did a really nice job of keeping his head on his shoulders, finding the open man and not forcing anything. And our athletes made plays. (Wyatt) Moore had two big catches, and our tight end, Austin Brewster, made two huge catches — both for first downs — to keep the drive alive.

“(Brewster’s) second one got us to the 4-yard line with 34 seconds to go. After a timeout we ran one of our power plays and snuck the fullback Hunter Liveoak out in the flat. Jeremiah nailed him in the chest (with the pass), and Hunter walled off a kid and scored.”

The TD tied the game at 20-20, and Jackson Schriever prepared to kick the PAT.

“The thing about Jackson, he did not come off the field all game, so think about his legs,” Wood said. “He’s our deep threat offensively; he’s our free safety, kicker, punter, and now he’s having to make the most important extra-point kick at East Newton since 2007 (the last year the Patriots won a postseason game).

“He told me afterwards ‘I was shaking,’ and why wouldn’t you. As the extra-point group ran out, I grabbed Toukheng Xiong and told him ‘Find Jackson, get in his face, tell him to take a deep breath and everything will be fine.’ He did exactly that.”

The Patriots fell behind 20-0 to the Tigers, and there were some heads dropping.

“It’s hard not to,” Wood said. “It was more of a frustration drop instead of a we’re done kind of drop. It was what was going on here ... it’s not how we want to play. It was just a bunch of question marks in the kids’ faces more than anything. We haven’t looked like this in a long time.”

So what got the Patriots going?

“Our seniors more than anything,” Wood answered. “Wyatt (Moore) made a huge play right before half, going 65 yards for a touchdown.

“At halftime we just put it on our seniors’ shoulders. We made a few adjustments defensively. Offensively, we really didn’t change anything. Defensively, I put in our older kids instead of trying to find ways to rest them. It’s time for the seniors to step up and make something happen.”

The Patriots still trailed 20-7 after three quarters, but Liveoak returned a fumble almost 70 yards to the 10-yard line. The Patriots scored three plays later on Ryan Millett’s 10-yard run, and Schriever’s PAT made it 20-14 midway through the final quarter.

Houston (4-6) picked up one first down before punting to the Patriots, and they began their final series at the 23-yard line.

Wood, in his first year at East Newton, will long remember the postgame happenings.

“Our senior group, they’ve been through some lean times in four years at East Newton,” he said. “Seeing them get to experience that feeling is worth everything we’ve gone through.”

And the bus ride home didn’t seem long.

“Very few kids signed out (to ride home with parents),” Wood said. “It was not a holy cow, breaking loose. It was, ‘We did it,’ and kids being happy for each other and happy for the team. It was a cool bus ride home.”

The Patriots (2-8) are on the road again this Friday night against top-seeded Ava (10-0).

“They will get in the flexbone and pound,” Wood said. “They have a stud back who is very good (Kayden Myers, 6.9 yards per carry, 1,162 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground during the regular season).

“But we’ve played a bunch of good teams. ... The thing we’ve preached to our kids is it doesn’t matter who we play, they are going to get everything we have. That’s where we’re at again, the same thing as against Cassville, Lamar, Seneca, Monett, Springfield Catholic. It’s all the kids doing the action.”

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