They are the champions: Falcons collect first state title

They are the champions: Falcons collect first state title

DeKALB — The yell permeated over a flock of Falcons and over the roar of their supporters.

"Where's Coach Allen?" an official wondered amid the din of celebration.

Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley football coach Mike Allen needed to stand on the podium just beyond one end zone at Huskie Stadium to receive his medal after the Falcons defeated Maroa-Forsyth 38-32 in Friday's Class 2A state championship game for the school's first-ever crown in any sport.

But Allen was conducting an interview farther down the field. It led to GCMS' Falcon mascot comically running at Allen while flapping its arms and more or less dragging the 17th-year coach to his team.

It only delayed the inevitable.

GCMS (14-0) received its medals, garnered its state championship trophy and the party was officially on.

"It's all our team has talked about since we lost against Kewanee last year in the second round," said Mitch McNutt, the Falcons' senior running back who gashed Maroa-Forsyth for 139 running yards and three scores on 32 carries. "I'm still in shock. It means everything."

"It's surreal is what it is," senior lineman/linebacker Luke Freehill added. "It won't hit me until Monday, probably. Monday is gonna be a good day, too."

Friday wasn't too bad either for the Falcons, who overcame four leads by the Trojans (12-2), went ahead for good with just over a minute left to play on an incredible touchdown catch by junior Bryce Barnes and hung on against a Maroa-Forsyth squad that has reached four state championship games this decade.

GCMS gave up just 81 points across all 13 of its games heading into the final contest of the season. And while the Trojans scored often, they didn't do so as much as the Falcons.

"We knew that they were going to be tough, but as they started to get those (scores), we knew that that's not the big play we needed," GCMS junior linebacker Austin Spiller said. "We didn't need to worry. We'd stop them when we needed to."

That wound up true, but it was preceded by a bevy of offensive successes for both clubs, punctuated by Barnes' catch that will live in GCMS lore.

Trailing 32-30 with a little more than six minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Falcons started a program-changing drive, methodically picking up yards on the ground and relying on a 35-yard completion from quarterback Nathan Garard to Barnes that put the ball in Maroa-Forsyth territory.

Garard thought he had an 11-yard scoring rush to cap the drive, but it was called back on a holding penalty.

"I had no idea," he said. "I mean, it got really quiet all of a sudden, and I thought, 'Our fans should be going crazy right now.'"

They did.

Just two plays later when Garard attempted his seventh and final pass of the night. The 6-foot-2 Barnes fully extended his body in the back of the end zone and came down with a 23-yard score to put the Falcons ahead 36-32.

"That's a one-time thing, I think," Barnes said. "I just said, 'Bryce, you've got to make the play if we're going to win this thing.' Nate put the perfect pass, and I just went up and caught it."

Barnes also caught the following two-point conversion to put GCMS up 38-32 with 1:08 to play.

All of this predated a game that saw seven lead changes and the Falcons claw back from a 26-15 deficit midway through the third quarter after Maroa-Forsyth's Deondre Gregory (128 rushing yards) sprinted for a 36-yard touchdown.

That's when GCMS got fired up. McNutt, who was struck twice by late hits on the next drive, pushed in a touchdown from 1 yard to cut the Falcons' deficit to 26-23.

"We knew it'd kind of be like a track race," McNutt said. "We score-they score kind of thing. We stop them, they stop us. Our line did great, and I was just bouncing runs to get some yardage."

Then, after a heavy diet of McNutt and Jared Trantina (132 rushing yards on 14 carries) to start the fourth quarter, GCMS keyed up senior Brooks Schmitt for an 11-yard touchdown run and a 30-26 edge. It was one of Schmitt's three carries on the day.

"Brooks is a good reader," Allen said. "He cut up, cut back in and cut back out. He's an outstanding athlete and a patient kid. We felt confident every time we ran him."

The Trojans didn't need long to respond, though. On their next possession, Inda turned a simple end-around into a 52-yard touchdown jaunt and a 32-30 Maroa-Forsyth lead.

But that was more than enough time for McNutt, Garard, Barnes and the rest of the Falcons to churn out one more memorable drive in a season full of memories before handing it over to a stout defense that was a key reason why the Falcons had a chance to win a state title.

After Barnes' game-winning touchdown catch, Maroa-Forsyth could hardly move from its own 20. The Falcon defense found its form, with Barnes jumping in on the game's final tackle.

"I was trying not to lose it," Barnes said. "I was already getting emotional."

The Falcons can let out all their emotions now. They've accomplished something no other GCMS program has ever done.

"Our kids never panicked," Allen said. "What an awesome feeling when the clock struck zero."

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