Because the 6-foot-5 John Cooper seems a foot taller than any defensive back he encounters, or so his quarterback says, he pulled in a 26-yard touchdown pass in overtime for the Lexington Horsemen.
Because he knows how to extend his reach, Cooper dived and snared the two-point conversion pass to give the Horsemen a 55-54 victory over Green Bay Saturday night.
The thrilling finish in front of 3,989 fans in Rupp Arena clinched a playoff berth for the first-year expansion team in arenafootball2. The Horsemen are tied with Green Bay with 9-5 records in the Midwest Division, but Lexington has the tiebreaker by virtue of two one-point victories over the Blizzard.
Two games remain for each team.
“Our coaches are aggressive,” Cooper said. “We had an opportunity to win it with the ball in our hands.”
The Blizzard had taken a 54-47 lead by scoring first in overtime.
Lexington countered with three Eddie Eviston completions to get in the end zone.
An extra-point kick by Doug Daniel would have tied the score. But the game would have gone to sudden death, and Green Bay would have had the first chance to score.
“I wasn't surprised (by the decision),” Cooper said.
Before the overtime, the Horsemen had rallied from a 34-14 halftime deficit caused by seven turnovers. Five came in the second quarter when the Blizzard outscored the home team 28-7.
Lexington Coach Mike Harmon said he lost his voice in a “heart-to-heart” session with his team.
“We challenged them,” he said. “We told them we're better than that, now get the ball and get it done.”
The Horsemen scored twice in the first 41/2 minutes after the break. Eviston, who had four fumbles and two picks, threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Tavon McGee, and J.T. Haskins returned an interception 12 yards for a score.
Lexington's offensive line, challenged by assistant coach Garry McPeek, began to handle Green Bay's defense, the best in the league.
The Horsemen defense also rose to the occasion, limiting the Blizzard to a pair of touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters.
“Our offense finally got going, but the defense was awesome,” Eviston said. “The defense won the game.”
Haskins said the first half was a struggle. “I pulled the guys together and we regrouped.”
Lexington took a 41-40 lead on Jamus Martin's 1-yard run early in the fourth period.
The Blizzard got even at 47-all on Robert Garth's 4-yard TD reception inside the final minute.
Eviston fumbled the snap at the Blizzard 5, then Green Bay missed a field goal on the last play of regulation.
Lexington's one-point victory matched its 49-48 win at Green Bay in May.
Eviston finished with 28 completions in 40 attempts for 331 yards and five touchdowns. McGee had 13 catches for 182 yards. Cooper had three TD receptions.
Blizzard quarterback Collin Drafts threw for 221 yards and three scores.
The first half had some bizarre moments.
The Blizzard lost the ball on the opening kickoff, and Lexington took over on the visitors' 10. But two plays later, the home team gave it back. Eviston faded to pass but fumbled under a big rush.
Edward Kwaku returned the fumble 29 yards for a touchdown less than two minutes into the game.
The Horsemen scored with 7 seconds left on a 4-yard pass to Chad Spencer.
The Blizzard had three plays for no yards in the first period but trailed only 7-6.They threw two incomplete passes and an interception.
That changed dramatically in the second quarter.
On the third play, running back Garth took a pitchout and found 325-pound Stephen Santos open for a 32-yard touchdown.
The Horsemen regained the lead briefly, but the Blizzard scored three more times.