Isaiah Thomas had maybe 30 seconds late in the fourth quarter Aug. 24 to figure out what had gone wrong as the Upper Arlington receiver he was covering caught a 39-yard pass to keep a wild game alive.
Thomas, a junior cornerback for the Reynoldsburg High School football team, quickly atoned, intercepting Golden Bears quarterback Sammy Sass inside the Raiders’ 20-yard line to foil a last-ditch UA comeback and preserve a 17-14 season-opening win.
“(UA’s Steven Bair) just beat me the first time and I just had to get back into coverage. I’d been looking back into the backfield too much,” Thomas said. “On the second play, I knew they were going to try me again so I had to get back deep. They picked on me the first time. I just had to go up and get the ball.”
Purdue-bound receiver Mershawn Rice’s seven catches for 157 yards and two touchdowns led Reynoldsburg in an early showdown between Division I, Region 2 playoff hopefuls. Rice caught a 57-yard touchdown pass from Michael Whatley on the second play of the second quarter, moments after Sass’ 21-yard touchdown pass to Bair gave UA a 7-0 lead. Rice also caught a 53-yard score late in the third quarter to give the Raiders the lead for good.
“We made a lot of mistakes but we overcame them. Upper Arlington gave us all we could handle,” Reynoldsburg coach Buddy White said. “If they didn’t have a safety back, Mershawn could get behind the defense and he was bigger than the corners who were covering him. We felt like we had an advantage there and we took it.”
UA did not get untracked offensively until the fourth quarter. The Bears punted eight times in their first nine possessions, but put together two solid drives late to make it a game.
Sass scored from 2 yards out with 4:30 to go to make it 17-14, and UA began its final drive at its own 19. The 39-yard pass to Bair put the Bears at the Raiders’ 49 before Thomas’ interception.
“Sammy kept his poise. His presence there with us down (17-7) and then giving us a chance at the end, that’s what we expect from him,” UA coach Joel Cutler said. “This was a slobberknocker. This was pretty much the game I expected.”
==========Team 1 2 3 4 Final REYNOLDSBURG 0 7 7 3 17 UPPER ARLINGTON
7 0 0 7 14
UA—Bair 21 pass from Sass (Raish kick)
R—Rice 57 pass from Whatley (Tully kick)
R—Rice 53 pass from Whatley (Tully kick)
R—Co. Goff 28 FG
UA—Sass 2 run (Raish kick)