DALLAS — The leaders of South Albany High’s defense were pleading for someone, anyone, to step up and save the day.
Trailing 18-15 in the final minutes of Friday’s Mid-Willamette Conference football game at Dallas, the Rebels were out of timeouts and in need of a turnover. Diego Ramos would deliver.
Ramos flew up from his middle linebacker spot and knocked the ball out of Evan Courtney’s hands. Teammate Colby Romviel picked up the loose ball and sprinted 22 yards to the Dallas 39 with 1:13 remaining.
Three plays later, Cael Matta dove into the end zone from 2 yards out to put the Rebels in front for good. Anthony Pulido picked off Jaret Stewart on the game’s final play, sealing a 22-18 comeback win for South (3-3, 3-0 MWC).
“Everyone was getting all hyped and saying ‘make a play,'” said Ramos, a senior middle linebacker. “I took on the lead blocker and it bounced me back. The ball carrier was running by himself so I dove my head right at the ball and it just came out.”
Dallas (2-4, 0-3), which rushed for 279 yards in the loss, went up 18-7 with 5:34 remaining on Brycen Grillo’s second touchdown of the fourth quarter. The Dragons had picked up two first downs to likely ice the game before Courtney’s fumble.
Romviel, also a senior, alertly scooped up the ball and ran to immediately put the Rebels on the brink of field goal range. But South didn’t need star kicker Ozzie Ramirez this time.
Quarterback Jake Costello connected with Eli Nafziger for a 16-yard gain on first down. Costello then ran 20 yards up the gut to the Dallas 2, setting up Matta’s game-winning score.
“What won us that football game was Colby Romviel picking up that fumble and running it (22) yards to get us in scoring position,” South coach David Younger said. “We knew we would could take some shots and at least get a field goal there.
“I’m so proud of our kids’ effort. We didn’t show up last week like we wanted to, and to come out here and gut out this win was just awesome.”
Costello completed 9 of 20 passes for 93 yards with a TD and an interception. The senior also ran for a team-leading 95 yards on 16 carries with another score.
Matta finished with 20 carries for 67 yards.
Trailing 7-0 at halftime, Dallas got on the board late in the third quarter when Courtney walked into the end zone from 10 yards on a fourth-down run. Courtney was dropped just short of the goal line on the ensuing two-point attempt, leaving South with a 7-6 lead.
One play after stopping the Rebels on a fourth-and-2, Grillo broke multiple tackles along the left sideline en route to a 66-yard TD. South again stood firm on the conversion try to stay within five at 12-7.
Dallas then forced a three-and-out and blocked a Ramirez scrimmage kick, taking over at the South 24. Grillo's second TD of the quarter — this time from 8 yards out — appeared to put it away at 18-7.
But the Rebels, who host Silverton next Friday, answered with a nine-play, 68-yard scoring drive that ended with a Nafziger 30-yard TD reception. Costello then hit Gunner Teem in the right flat on the two-point try to make it 18-15.
Dallas took over at its own 27 with 3:24 remaining and picked up two first downs before the turnover. Ramos never saw Romviel recover the ball.
“I was on the ground, and I looked at (Courtney) and the ball wasn’t in his hands,” Ramos said. “I’m looking around and everyone is jumping up and cheering, so someone had to have the ball.”
Added Younger: “Our coaches are excited, our kids are excited and I’m so happy that we had some unlikely heroes step up and make some big plays tonight.”
A Teem fumble recovery at the Dallas 44 set up the only score before the break. Costello plowed into the end zone on first-and-goal from the 5, staking the Rebels to a 7-0 lead with 1:33 remaining in the opening quarter.
Dallas lost a pair of first-half fumbles and turned it over on downs at the South 16. The Dragons outgained the visitors 105-104 through 24 minutes.
Costello finished the opening half 5 of 8 for 32 yards through the air while running for 22 yards and a score. He completed passes to five different receivers.