WHITE HOUSE – Springfield safety Gabe Kelly knew exactly when to jump.
He had already intercepted White House quarterback Caleb Anderson in the third quarter, and when his Yellow Jacket team was suddenly clinging to a 27-24 lead with 2:12 remaining, Kelly made another play.
The junior cut in front of White House receiver Logan Neufeld on an underthrown pass, secured the pick and ran 31 yards to the end zone. That sealed a 34-24 victory for Springfield in a crucial Region 5-4A contest.
“I saw the ball thrown to a playmaker (Neufeld), and I knew had to go get that ball,” Kelly said. “I just had to go get it, man.”
The game appeared to be clinched much earlier in the fourth quarter, but a furious comeback attempt from White House – fueled by two takeaways – made for high drama in the closing minutes.
“Our kids just kept playing,” White House coach Ryan Hamilton said. “We’re going to play until the final tick on the clock. I’m very proud of the effort we gave. The defense did its job, but (the offense) has to do its job.”
Springfield lost fumbles on back-to-back drives, allowing White House tailback Ranen Blackburn to rush for two short touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Blackburn finished with 225 yards and three touchdowns on 34 carries.
After Blackburn’s final touchdown with 3:41 remaining, the White House defense forced Springfield to punt, giving the offense a chance to engineer a game-winning drive until Kelly’s interception of Anderson ended that opportunity.
“I can’t understate that momentum word when you’re dealing with teenage kids,” Springfield coach Dustin Wilson said. “Gabe (Kelly) making a play like that to pick everybody up and seal it was important.”
White House had all the momentum at the beginning of the night. A 28-yard field goal from Bryson Harper and a 1-yard touchdown run by Blackburn gave the Blue Devils a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter.
That’s when Kevontez Hudson and Kevontay White took over. Springfield reeled off 27 unanswered points in the second and third quarters, as they each rushed for a pair of scores.
“We woke up,” Kelly, who finished with six total tackles, said. “It’s all about being hype. If your teammates are up, you get up with them. I don’t know how to explain it.”
The Yellow Jackets rested White for precautionary reasons in a 31-10 win at Station Camp last week. White finished with 126 yards on 29 carries against the Blue Devils, and Hudson ran for 82 yards on 12 carries.
Springfield’s victory evened the all-time series record at 16-16. The Yellow Jackets won in a 47-10 blowout in 2018, but White House narrowed the gap in this meeting.
“All we can ask for is an opportunity to win (at the end),” Hamilton said. “Our kids kept fighting in the fourth quarter. We have to capitalize on those moments.”
Wilson said he felt fortunate to escape with the victory. Three of Springfield’s four wins have been by 10 points or less.
“Survive is very appropriate here,” Wilson said. “A lot of lessons can be taught, like not dancing on the field thinking it’s over. It’s never over. Hats off to White House for continuing to fight.”
Both teams get a break from Region 5-4A action this Friday. Springfield is set to host Marshall County (4-1) for Homecoming, while White House will travel to Watertown (4-1).