The last cut was the deepest.
Mt. Zion junior wide receiver Grant McAtee provided it.
Following an Armando Estrada 21-yard field goal that put Effingham ahead, 36-33, on the Hearts’ first possession of overtime, Braves’ junior quarterback Makobi Adams found McAtee on a slant pass for the game-winning score.
“We designed a play earlier. It was a bubble screen with a fake and a fade, and we were playing the outside leverage pretty hard, so we checked to a slant,” said McAtee on his score.
McAtee finished the game with 96 yards receiving on three catches.
As a whole, Effingham (3-3, 3-2 Apollo Conference) struggled to contain a potent Mt. Zion (5-1, 4-1 Apollo Conference) passing attack.
Adams completed 21-of-33 passes for 369 yards and five touchdowns to one interception.
He connected with freshman Jacob Harvey for a 34-yard touchdown on the Braves’ first drive of the game. Found freshman JC Anderson from six yards out in the second quarter and found McAtee again on an 83-yard strike, but the one person Adams continued to find more often than not was sophomore Brayden Trimble.
Trimble finished with 11 catches for 175 yards and one score.
“Their athleticism puts you in a bind,” Effingham head coach Brett Hefner said. “If you had told me the score was going to be what it ended up, I wouldn’t think we could win a game that way. We were going to have to try and keep the ball away from them, and we would have to try and grind it out, but with their athleticism, it gets you to spread out, and they do a good job of getting their guys the ball in space.
“There were too many plays through the air.”
Even with Mt. Zion continuing to convert explosive play after explosive play, though, Effingham still had a chance in the end.
A boisterous crowd was behind them, too, with senior Evan Waymoth providing the first jolt.
On Effingham’s third possession, the Hearts’ worked a 16-play drive down to the goal line before Waymoth found paydirt with 3:25 left in the second quarter following an Estrada point-after.
Effingham then forced Mt. Zion to punt from the 11-yard line — which the Hearts returned to their 32-yard line — before senior quarterback Tanner Pontious found fellow senior Connor Thompson from 32 yards out on the first play of Effingham’s fourth drive that gave the hosts the lead, 14-13, with 2:18 to go.
The excitement didn’t stop there, however.
Before the first half concluded, Estrada went on to intercept Adams, following a 19-yard reception by Trimble, with 1:36 remaining in the period. The Hearts then used three-straight run plays to end the half and head into the locker room with much-needed momentum on their side.
That momentum carried over early in the second half, as well.
Effingham opened the second half with a 15-play drive that ended with an Estrada field goal to push the Hearts ahead by four, 17-13.
The Estrada field goal was the first of two in the contest.
His second, though, was his most memorable.
Following an Adams 10-yard rushing touchdown that made it a 33-30 game with 2:05 remaining, the Hearts had one last chance, and they didn’t let the crowd down.
Pontious opened the final drive of regulation with a 10-yard gain. Junior Andrew Lotz then caught an eight-yard pass from Pontious, and senior Garrett Wolfe followed shortly after with an 11-yard catch before a horse-collar tackle penalty assessed to Mt. Zion pushed Effingham down to the 21-yard line. Pontious then added a three-yard run after that to set up the closing stages of regulation.
But, it didn’t come without some strategy from the opposition.
Before Estrada reared back to attempt his first kick, Braves’ head coach Patrick Etherton called a timeout to try and ice the kicker.
Etherton then did the same thing before Estrada attempted his second try, but both were unsuccessful.
On Estrada’s third attempt, he nailed the ball between the goalposts, holder Zach Donaldson in the background with both hands held high, and the Mt. Zion bench watching in the distance as Estrada yelled at the top of his lungs and clenched his fists.
Effingham had tied the game at the buzzer.
“He’s a weapon, and he’s been a weapon for a long time, and it was great to know that when you get to that spot, you have him with you,” said Hefner of Estrada.
Estrada wasn’t the only one Hefner was happy to have on his side; Pontious was equally as important.
Pontious finished with two rushing touchdowns and one passing.
He also extended numerous drives with his feet and showcased his leadership throughout.
After the game, a visibly emotional Pontious tried to hold back the tears after a tough loss.
“Both sides of the ball battled their tail off. This game came down to the end; it came down to the final score, and there’s nothing we can do about it,” Pontious said.
Effingham will look to bounce back in Week 7 when it travels to Lincoln. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.