continued Sweet Home needed something and got it when Jordan Heine returned the second-half kickoff 50 yards to put the Panthers in BH-BL territory. Less than 90 seconds later, Jordan Evert scored on a 6-yard run to close the gap to 26-7.
Two minutes later, Brad Zaffram intercepted McDonnell’s screen pass, but the Panthers gave it right back when Mike McCoy fumbled on the very next play and Ball recovered at Sweet Home’s 45.
That proved to be a key play because the Spartans regained control with another short scoring drive. Dan Porter did the main damage with a 12-yard run where he dragged several tacklers behind him and a 5-yard touchdown run. McDonell’s extra point made the score 33-7.
With more of a cushion, the Spartans could absorb Torrillo’s 45-yard touchdown pass to Zaffram late in the third quarter that cut the lead to 33-14. Josh Quesada wove his way around Sweet Home’s secondary and went 39 yards for BH-BL's final touchdown, and the lead was 40-14.
The Spartans forced two more Sweet Home turnovers in the fourth quarter. Dillon provided a clincher when he intercepted Torrillo with 7:20 left.
As the final minutes ticked down, the large BH-BL contingent started a “Coach Shell” chant. Given what Shell has gone through on and off the field -- including the cancer diagnosis of his son, Jake, in 2009 -- no one had to feel better about the Spartans’ emphatic breakthrough than him.
Jake Shell, now 12 and with his cancer in remission, was on the field this night, serving as a ball boy. His presence, said Matt Shell, reminded the coach what it was really about, beyond who won or lost.
After receiving the state championship plaque, the players spent an extensive amount of time with those fans, sharing high-fives and hugs -- a catharsis after the heartaches of seasons past.
“We wanted to get this one so badly,” said Dillon. “And it feels so great.”