As the seconds ticked down Friday night in Mexico, the Boonville Pirates football team had reason to celebrate after knocking off the Bulldogs 24-21 in NCMC action.
While the Pirates entered the game at 2-2 overall, Mexico was 3-1 having just knocked off the Hannibal Pirates the week before to lay claim as the team to beat in the conference.
But not on this night.
While leading for pretty much the entire game except for late in the third  quarter, Boonville can now be mentioned as a possible threat to win the NCMC in its final year of the conference.
The Pirates, 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the NCMC, will host Kirksville this coming Friday night at Gene Reagan field starting at 7 p.m. The Tigers fell to 1-4 overall and 1-2 in the NCMC by losing to Hannibal 34-7.
Although it took a 89 yard drive on their final possession, the Pirates made it count when they needed it the most.
Of course it didn’t look good for Boonville after Mexico scored with 9 seconds left in the third to go up 21-16.
However, on their final possession of the ballgame, the Pirates methodically marched the ball down field with the first two plays gaining a total of seven yards. Meanwhile, after facing a third and six, Boonville got the break they were looking for when junior tight end Brandon Johnson hauled in a tipped pass and ran it back all the way to the Bulldogs 42.
Had the pass been caught by the Mexico defender, the Bulldogs would have escaped with an  five-point victory. However, the Pirates were both lucky and good when Johnson snagged the ball out of mid air and raced down the sideline. Boonville also picked up another 15 yards on a roughing the passer penalty, which moved the ball to the Mexico 27. Three plays later after a run of 14 yards and a pass down to the Bulldogs 2, senior quarterback Kole Ficken scored his second touchdown of the ballgame to put the Pirates on top 22-21.
Boonville Pirates football coach Barry Blank elected to go for two after that to force Mexico to at least kick a field goal to tie the game. As it turned out, the Pirates scored on the two-point conversion when Ficken found Johnson in the back of the end zone to extend the lead to 24-21.
With 1:18 left in the ballgame after the touchdown and two-point conversion, Boonville still had to deal with the possibility of Mexico either scoring or kicking a field goal. However after picking up eight yards on the first play to their own 28, the Bulldogs appeared to have squandered any chance of victory when sophomore linebacker Josh Polk picked off a pass from quarterback Jonathan Grubb with 57 seconds left.
While addressing the players in a huddle after the game around the 30 yard line, Blank said he just told the kids that if they couldn’t get up for this game he doesn’t know what they can get up for.
“I knew we had a chance on our final possession because we had just gotten a stop and we talked to the kids earlier about this being a fourth quarter game,” Blank said. “We knew they were physical. They are a heck of a football team but I thought we came out and played like a football team as well. In 27 years of coaching a team I don’t know if I have seen a team battle with this much adversity this week and keep fighting and fighting. I am just proud of the kids. It’s all about the kids and their effort. I think this win just validates to our kids what hard work, perseverance and being a team player is all about and that’s what we are trying to teach them in this game.”
Something else to think about. Since 2008 when the Pirates joined the NCMC, Boonville is 5-5 against the Bulldogs.
Of course this  could have easily gone the other way with the Bulldogs celebrating a Homecoming victory.
But give credit where credit is due. The Pirates came into Mexico and did exactly what they wanted to do by controlling the first half of play while leading the Bulldogs by a score of 16-7.
Although it wasn’t easy, Boonville made its own breaks at times while forcing a Mexico fumble on its second possession at its own 18. Four plays later after moving the ball down to the Bulldogs 2, Ficken scored his first touchdown with 5:13 left to make it 7-0.
However the Bulldogs answered after the kick off by moving the ball 59 yards on five plays for the score. The 32-yard run by senior running back Avion Williams tied the game at 7-all with 2:50 left in the first.
Boonville later added a 33-yard field goal by senior Thomas Simmons to go up 10-7 with 10:39 left in the half. Then, after exchanging punts, the Pirates tacked on another six points when Ficken found Edler in the corner of the end zone on a 9-yard pass to extend the lead to 16-7 at the half.
Boonville also out-gained Mexico 126-79 in the first half with Ficken leading in both rushing and passing yards with 39 and 54, respectively.  The Pirates also had seven first downs compared while holding Mexico to three.
However the game got really interesting in the third quarter as Mexico reeled off 14 unanswered points to go up 21-16 for the first time in the game. The Bulldogs first score of the second half came on a 13-yard run by senior Cameron Holman to cut the lead to two at 16-14 with 6:20 left. As for the second, Mexico caught Boonville flat-footed with a fake punt on fourth and six from its own 29. Seven plays later after moving the ball to the Boonville 10, Grubb hit Holman on a slant pass with 9 seconds remaining in the third go up by five at 21-16.
Blank said the fake punt was huge for Mexico. “It made me nervous but our kids rallied back and we overcame,” Blank said. “However, we hung on and had some breaks go our way on that last drive. Our kids kept their composure so I can’t give them enough credit.”
Prior to the final drive, the Pirates were forced to punt and then watched Mexico drive the field on nine plays before self-destructing with one holding call, one personal foul and one false start.
Then, on the winning drive, Boonville avoided a potentially ending interception when Johnson appeared to be in the right place at the right time for a 40-yard gain.
Blank said on those type of plays sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. “The kids kept playing through the football and it was huge for us,” Blank said. “However I thought we played about as well as we could have in the first half. We were right where we wanted to be. Then, in the third quarter it was a little nerve wracking but our kids fought. And then on our final drive we executed when we had to and scored on the two-point conversion, which was huge.”
Blank said this was also the biggest win of his career. While entering the game at 6-18 in two-plus years at Boonville, Blank said this probably ranks up there as one of the best ever and knowing what the kids had to go through this week. Now we have to learn how to prepare for this week because I’m sure Kirksville is not going to come in and lay down for us.”
For the game, the Pirates finished with 12 first downs along with 91 yards rushing and 128 passing for a total of 219. Mexico, meanwhile, finished the game with nine first downs along with 242 yards rushing and 24 passing for a total of 266.
As for individual totals, Ficken finished with 16 carries for 32 yards and two touchdowns while completing 10 of 15 passes for 128 yards and one touchdown. Ben Eichelberger had 33 yards rushing while Avian Thomas, who sat out the entire second half, carried the ball only 10 times for 22 yards.
Brandon Johnson was the leading receiver with two catches for 55 yards while Adam Edler had three catches for 32 yards and one score.
On defense, Eichelberger led with a total of 14 tackles. Johnson had nine tackles, one tackle for a loss and one sack while Landon Weaver added nine tackles, one sack and one forced fumble, Tramell Coleman six tackles, Josh Polk five tackles, two tackles for losses and one interception, Ben Horst also with five tackles, Gabe Rumbaoa four tackles with one tackle for a loss and one fumble recovery, Christian Kosnopfal also with four tackles, Adam Edler, Dylan Watson and Dakota Williams each with three tackles, Carson Campbell and Kole Ficken each with two tackles and one tackle for a loss, Samuel Wiser also with two tackles and Peyton Keeran and Andrew Pefferman each with one tackle.
For Mexico, Holman had 14 carries for 106 yards and two touchdowns while Grubb completed 4 of 9 passes for 24 yards with one interception. Holman also had three catches for 14 yards.