To describe Avery Ezell as a workhorse would be an understatement. The Walkersville High School football running back rushed for 281 yards on 41 carries and took a 1-yard dive into the end zone with 11 seconds remaining to give the Lions a 22-19 victory over Gov. Thomas Johnson.
In a thriller from start to finish that saw seven lead changes, Walkersville stayed undefeated by feeding Ezell, who has nearly 1,200 rushing yards this season. After Thomas Johnson took a 19-15 lead with 3 minutes, 8 seconds remaining in the contest on a 46-yard pass from Heath Dahlgren to William Copeland, Ezell ran seven times in the last 2:49 for the clinching score and his second touchdown of the game.
“We knew it was the last play, we needed the yard. We gave everything we had,” Ezell said. “I went off to the right … I found a hole, I jumped into it, and got the touchdown.”
The winning touchdown for Ezell could have happened four plays earlier, but a 4-yard score was negated by an illegal motion penalty with 34.3 seconds left. After an incomplete pass by Brady Policelli, Ezell got the call three straight times.
“That is the toughest [game this year],” Ezell said. “[I] never got tired. No matter what, I knew I had to keep on pushing.”
Before the electrifying finish, it was a hard fought game full of botched snaps, hand offs, field goals, and punts. Walkersville started the scoring with a 32-yard field goal by Policelli almost halfway through the first quarter. Thomas Johnson took a lead in the second quarter when Brent Comer blocked a Lions punt at the Patriots 37. Sam Shipley then returned it all the way for a 7-3 lead.
The Patriots would only hold the advantage for 13 seconds as Ezell ran left and went untouched for 79 yards and a touchdown. Walkersville missed the extra point and it led 9-7 at the half.
“It was a really, really hard fought game, both teams played their hearts out,” said Walkersville coach Joe Polce. “I told the kids that [Thomas Johnson] is the most talented team we've played all year. ... They could very easily be 6-0 right now.”
Thomas Johnson was down only two points at half, but had just 40 yards of offense. Ezell ran 18 times for 162 yards in the first half.
Walkersville received the ball at the start of the third quarter and took the drive to the Patriots 35, but had to punt. Policelli's attempt was blocked by Randy Alford. Three plays later, Dahlgren found Richy Anderson for a 61-yard touchdown pass.
With a potential upset on the line, Thomas Johnson struggled to hold onto the football. Still ahead by four points, a botched snap and fumble recovery by Brenden Cassels two plays into the fourth quarter allowed the Lions to take over at the Patriots 39.
“We play hard, we just play dumb,” Thomas Johnson coach Ben Wright said. “We jumped offsides a few times, dropped snaps, stuff you should take care of in August, the first week. ... I don't know what to tell them.”
Policelli then threw one of his four complete passes of the game to Nick Tucker for a score with 11:22 remaining.
“I don't think there is one person on this team who doesn't like another. ... We might not have as much talent as these other teams, but we definitely have the biggest heart,” Policelli said.
With 4:40 remaining, Dahlgren threw three passes for a combined 85 yards, including a 46-yard pass to Copeland for a 19-15 lead.
“They were playing one deep. [Copeland] is just faster than the kid trying to cover him,” Wright said. “[In the second half] we had to spread them out and throw more, like we did.”
It would be far from over as Walkersville got a boost from Nick Tucker on the ensuing kickoff. He returned the ball to the Patriots' 41.
“I don't really know what was going through my head,” Tucker said. “We concentrated on blocking this week and it paid off … run towards your blockers, and they block for us, and I'm thankful for that.”
After Ezell's score, the Patriots still had 11 seconds left due to the kick going out of bounds. On the sideline, some Walkersville players couldn't bear to watch, but the defense stepped up as Dahlgren had his first deep throw fall short. He was then was sacked by Kyle Senn to end the game.
“At the end of the day, it was just a great high school football game and we were very fortunate to come out on top,” said Polce.
Walkersville 22 Thomas Johnson 19
Walkersville (6-0) 3 6 0 13 — 22
Thomas Johnson (2-4) 0 7 6 6 — 19
W: Brady Policelli 32 field goal
TJ: Sam Shipley 64 blocked punt return (Chris Sloan kick)
W: Avery Ezell 79 run (Brady Policelli kick blocked)
TJ: Richy Anderson 61 reception (two-point conversion failed)
W: Nick Tucker 39 reception (two-point conversion failed)
TJ: William Copeland 46 reception (two-point conversion failed)
W: Avery Ezell 1 run (Brady Policelli kick good)
Walkersville — Brady Policelli 4-14-67-1.
Thomas Johnson — Heath Dahlgren 7-16-203-0.
Walkersville — Avery Ezell 41-281, Ryan Robertson 1-9, Brady Policelli 5-18, David Petrelle 3-11.
Thomas Johnson — William Copeland 1(-2), Josh McClain 5-7, Dallas Bowens 5-20, Richy Anderson 9-35, Kadeem Gill 1-1, Heath Dahlgreen 4(-9).
Walkersville — Avery Ezell 1-9, Cody Tharpe 1-6, Nick Tucker 2-52.
Thomas Johnson — Richy Anderson 3-100, Dallas Bowens 2-15, Kadeem Gill 1-46, William Copeland 1-46, Patrick Foley 1-13.