COLUMBUS, Ohio—Columbus quarterback Grant Russell gathers his teammates in the huddle with an attempt to lead a last-second comeback. Destroyers—still winless up to this point in the season—were beyond hoping for luck to be on their side. Game-changing bounces have constantly went in favor of Columbus’ opponents and it was easy to expect another bounce that would cost the Destroyers the game.
This game, however, was different. The “bounce” occurred but only this time Columbus responded.
Destroyers down three, 50-47, and only 30 seconds remain. Grant Russell receives the snap and with a heavy rush in his face, there was only one viable option open. His go-to target was streaking along the numbers and had his man beat. Russell tosses up the ball and Fabian Guerra dives and extends his arms where the ball is placed just inside his outstretched reach.
Touchdown, or so the 6,029 in attendance thought.
Atlantic City quickly challenged the play and determined that the ball bounced off the turf and Guerra failed to maintain possession.
But their heads were not down yet. Facing a very familiar situation and with 22 seconds remaining—a near eternity in arena football—Destroyers still had an opportunity.
Two quick shots to the end zone by Columbus led to two defensive penalties. The Destroyers are now on the Blackjacks 13-yard line with 17 seconds remaining. Russell drops back and throws the ball to the corner of the end zone. Receiver Kenyattus Cook reaches out and hauls in the catch. Complete, this time. Touchdown and the lead, 54-50.
Game not quite over especially following a great return by the Blackjacks.
Atlantic City starts the drive at their own 23-yard line with 12 seconds to score. Blackjacks quarterback Randy Hippeard lofts a pass to the front of the end zone where Kendrick Ings dives and nearly hauls it in.
After a dispute, the Blackjacks challenge the incomplete pass. This time, it is the Destroyers that receive the fortuitous news.
Following a failed hook-and-ladder play, the time ticked down to its last second and Columbus had its first win of the season, 54-50.
“It’s a freakin’ great feeling,” coach Sauk said after the game. “I think it finally shows what team we can be and on offense we scored on every single drive.”
Eight drives for eight scores and still not enough credit can go to Russell, who played his best game yet for Columbus. Turnovers have plagued him in past weeks but he was finally able to play a mistake-free game, completing 16-of-27 passes for 217 yards and six touchdowns including a calm moxie on the final drive in spite of the potential game-changing challenge. His response was simple following the overturned touchdown:
“We got to go. We have to get another one.”
A demeanor that his teammates fed off of in an adverse situation that led to high praise from his coach.
“He’s always improving,” coach Sauk said about Russell. “The biggest thing was to cut out the one or two big errors he had a game, and tonight he did… [Russell] played absolutely perfect.”
With a record of 1-6 and still last in the league, the season is not yet over for the Destroyers. Three of their final five games are home and the confidence is continuing to build inside the Columbus locker room.
“We have a good team and it may not show on the record but they are young and hungry and they’re still learning how to win,” coach Sauk said. “We’re finally showing what we can do and that team is unbelievable.”