DAYTON - Yes Virginia, the Dayton Dust Devils are for real. They can play a little football.
Trailing 36-7 after three quarters, the Dust Devils scored 28 points in nine-plus minutes, but lost a 36-35 thriller Friday night to Spring Creek, which got a 337-yard, four-touchdown effort from James Edwards.
Edwards' effort almost wasn't enough.
Dayton, after taking the ball on downs at its own 45 with 29.7 seconds left, drove to the Spring Creek 9 in the waning seconds thanks to a 31-yard catch by Josh Aaker and a 15-yard pass interference penalty. They were within easy field goal range except for one thing - they had no kicker. Trent Wood had left the game with a leg injury in the first half, forcing Dayton to try and punch it in.
Travis Wood spiked the ball on first down, and his potential game-winning pass was batted down in the end zone to end the wild contest. Spring Creek players jumped around like they'd won a world title, and Dayton's players trudged off the field with heads bowed.
"We just got started too late," said Dayton coach Rick Walker, whose team fell to 3-2 overall. "I'm so proud of this group. They never stopped trying; never quit."
The comeback started after Edwards had given the Spartans the aforementioned 29-point lead with a 9-yard scoring run with 1:42 left in the third quarter. The shifty back made life miserable for the Dust Devils most of the night with his tremendous cutback running which left Dayton defenders reaching for air.
After the ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, Dayton drove 65 yards in five plays with Zane Walker scoring on a 17-yard run. Aaker caught the two-point conversion pass from Travis Wood to make it 36-15 with 11:25 left. Wood's 36-yard toss to Aaker was the key play on the drive.
After holding on downs, Dayton's offense went to work again, driving 76 yards for a score. Aaker caught a 10-yard pass from Travis Wood (21 of 34, 307 yards). Erik Hopper caught the two-point conversion pass to make it 36-23 with 7:22 left. Spring Creek's defense was hit with two 15-yard penalties along the way.
Hopper came right back with another huge play, recovering the ensuing onsides kick at the Spring Creek 45. After an 11-yard run by Walker (14 carries 89 yards), Travis Wood fired an incomplete pass.
Walker broke loose around right for a 34-yard score to make it 36-29, throwing the Dayton fans into a frenzy.
Dayton's defense, which played a strong second half, held again, giving its offense what appeared to be one last shot to win the game with 4:20 left. On third-and-plenty from his own 23, Travis Wood found Aaker streaking up the seam. Aaker caught the ball, eluded a defender and raced to the end zone to make it 36-35 with 2:15 left.
Dayton lined up in kick formation, but Travis Wood took a direct snap from center. The snap was low, and his knee touched the ground, ending the play.
"I should have called a regular play," Walker said. "We called fire. I thought I could give Travis more time to throw, which is why I put him in the kicker slot and not holding."
All Spring Creek needed was to get a first down on the ensuing drive, but Dayton held once again, stopping Edwards (45 carries) for no gain on fourth down at the 45.
"We did a much better job on Edwards in the second half," Walker said.
Darrell Moody can be reached at email@example.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281.