WAKE FOREST — Sanderson battled the entire game Friday night against Wake Forest only to have the bounces go the other way.
It appeared it was going to end that way when the Spartans’ Matt Koehler’s fourth down pass in the final seconds was intercepted by the Cougars’ Chris Leonard.
Then Leonard tried to return the pick.
Leonard fumbled the ball and Sanderson’s Jeriko Styles was there to scoop it up and scramble 21 yards for the winning score with 5.8 seconds left to give Sanderson the 14-10 win.
“When the interception came, I was watching him the whole time,” Styles said. “One of my players gave him a good hit. I saw the ball go down. Scoop it and score. It’s always on my mind.”
Sanderson squibbed the kickoff after Style’s touchdown and corralled the Cougar returner to preserve the victory.
Sanderson (6-4, 4-2 Cap 8) scored two touchdowns in the final 1:34 to complete the bizarre, frantic ending in an otherwise, sluggish, rain-soaked game that Wake Forest was winning 3-0 at the start of the fourth quarter.
“It’s not the way we drew it up, but he did what he had to do to win,” Sanderson coach Ben Kolstad said.
But to get there, first Sanderson had to come back from a 10-0 deficit with three minutes left.
With the rain finally stopped and the need to score urgent, Sanderson turned to its passing game.
Koehler moved the Spartans 64 yards in five plays, culminating in a 27-yard touchdown pass to Bryson Powers with 1:33 left. Grayson Gregory’s extra point made it 10-7.
Gregory then drove a skipping onside kick that deflected off a Wake Forest player and shot straight into the air. Sanderson recovered the jump ball at the Cougar 46-yard line.
However, the Cougar defense wouldn’t relent and eventually forced a Spartan fourth-and-eight with 23 seconds left.
Koehler dropped back to pass and heaved a ball that fell short of its intended receiver. Leonard was there to intercept the pass and decided to return it, which led to Style’s improbable scoring recovery.
“(Styles) was upset. He fumbled the ball twice tonight … he was really down on himself, but he redeemed himself. That just shows the fight in the kid,” Kolstad said of Styles.
The rainy start and wet conditions forced both teams to the ground game. Wake Forest (7-3, 3-3) got on the board first with Zack Coates 38-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter for the 3-0 lead.
Then the teams trudged through a scoreless third quarter, before Wake Forest scored on a 48-yard touchdown run by Bryce Love.
Love broke three tackles in the backfield before escaping down the sideline and shaking off a fourth tackle for the score. Coates extra point gave Wake Forest a 10-0 lead with only 3:04 left in the game.
“This was a big game for Sanderson,” Kolstad said.