Air Academy's football team set the tone to open the second half of a 4A Southern Football Conference game against Widefield on Friday night at CA Foster stadium.
But despite a slew of penalties, and a few miscues along the way, Widefield held on to claim a 28-24 win for the Gladiators' first conference win of the season.
Widefield quarterback TJ Davis played hero with a 40-yard game-winning touchdown run in the final five minutes, while the Gladiator defense stepped up to hold Air Academy and seal the win in the final seconds.
Trailing 13-7 at the half, the Kadets recovered the onside kick to start the third quarter, and drilled down to the end zone thanks to a 29-yard touchdown pass from Bo Powers to Rylee Ollivierre. A successful extra point by Ben Newton gave the Kadets a one-point lead.
"We saw there was a hole in the middle, and made the adjustments," Air Academy coach Scott Grinde said. "It was a good play at that time and it worked out for us."
"The kids showed mental toughness and we could have folded right there after we gave up that touchdown but we responded well," Widefield coach Nic Olney said. "In the second half both teams went punch for punch and you have to give Air Academy some credit because they didn't fold either, we just made more plays than they did."
Midway through the fourth quarter, Air Academy (4-3, 0-2) had to battle back from behind again as Zach Martin carried the ball 36 yards to the end zone to give the Kadets a three-point lead with time running down.
"The thought was in my head, hey do we want to try a field goal to tie it," Olney said. "But I went to a couple of our kids and said hey we have a chance to tie it, and they said, no coach we want to win the game. It was a thought we had that ace in hole, but the kids wanted to drive and win the game."
Air academy also had a chance to tie it after a 63-yard rush by Ollivierra put the Kadets into enemy territory. But a big defensive stand by Widefield forced Air Academy to settle for a field goal with just over four minutes left in the third quarter.
Davis opened the scoring less than four minutes in with a 17-yard touchdown, followed by a 37-yard pass to Rodrick Jones as Widefield (5-2, 1-1) claimed a 14-0 lead. In the second half, Davis found Luis Maldonado for a touchdown and a 2-point conversion.
Air Academy closed out the third quarter with a 5-yard touchdown from Powers to Troyer Moyer with less than a minute left on the clock.
"You have to try to learn from the mistakes you make, and we can't beat ourselves, and we did that tonight," Grinde said. "We just didn't take advantage of some opportunities we had. They have the best quarterback in the state in my opinion and we just couldn't get it done. I'm not going to sugarcoat it, they beat us. We just have to try to pick up by the bootstraps and get better."