Oak Creek The Rams' Kory Babcock stood in the center of the Soroco High School football field Friday night powerless to stop the game clock as the final few painful seconds ticked away.
There would be no last-second touchdown for Soroco, no come-from-behind victory over cross-county rival Hayden and no homecoming victory celebration at midfield.
"We've been looking forward to this game all season." Babcock said. "It's just a heartbreaker to lose this game."
A 30-yard touchdown pass from Hayden quarterback Kelly Bruchez to wideout Evan Hilling with 9:06 remaining in the third quarter proved to be the backbreaker.
The toss gave the Tigers a 14-6 lead, and despite an all-out effort in the final quarter, the Rams would never answer that score.
"We were one play away, but you have to hand it to Hayden; they made some great interceptions," Soroco coach Gary Heide said. "I thought our guys played hard to get to the point where they had a chance to win it with one play. We had our backs against the wall, and we could have folded and it would have been a two or three touchdown game with any less heart. I'm proud of them."
In a game dominated by hard running and tough defensive stands, touchdowns were hard to come by.
Hayden scored first in the game after taking possession of the ball at the 46-yard line after recovering a fumbled snap.
Eight plays later, Bruchez, who switched between quarterback and running back for most of the night, carried the ball into the end zone on a three-yard run. Bruchez rushed for 33 yards on the drive and his touchdown gave his team a 7-0 lead with 7:49 remaining in the second quarter.
"The coach wanted to try it tonight," Bruchez said of his role as a running back. "They were expecting Cam (Whiteman) to run the ball. I'm 20 pounds heavier than Cam, so it helped a lot."
However, Bruchez's success moving the ball on the ground didn't seem to dampen the Rams' desire to win the game. On the home team's next possession, Soroco mounted an eight-play drive of its own, taking the ball to the 4-yard line.
However, Babcock tried to force a pass into coverage on third-and-goal and Hayden's Jordan Rolando came away with drive-killing interception.
But the Rams didn't give up.
A solid defensive stand forced Hayden to punt the ball four plays later, and Soroco's offense picked up where it had left off on the last drive. The Rams' Jack Means capped off his team's only scoring drive on the night with a two-yard plunge. The Rams went for the two-point conversion after the touchdown and failed but went into the half down just one point, 7-6.
"That interception on the 1-yard line in the second quarter, that just drug us down," Babcock said.
"But we sucked it up after that and scored, which kind of helped."
But the Tigers came out strong in the second half and scored the final touchdown of the game on their first possession of the half. In the final minutes of the fourth quarter, Hayden's defensive backs took control of the game, picking off four Soroco passes in the final quarter of play.
"We knew they were going to be fired up coming into the game," Bruchez said. "We expected a tough game like this when we came into it."