The best punt of the night by Central’s Ross Strong forced MJ to field the ball on the run, allowing ‘Cats’ Arcavious Johnson to strip the ball free and make the ensuing recovery at the Golden Bear 38.
After a big 14-yard run by Raines, Stewart threaded the needle between two Bear defensive backs to a flailing Raines who tumbled to the ground with the score, putting Central up 31-27.
MJ’s Vaughn Cornelia pulled in a 25-yard pass on the ensuing drive, but QB Reed Gurchiek’s next pass found a streaking Stewart near the sidelines, putting the Wildcats up for good. After the celebration penalty was assessed, Central converted on the two-point conversion to TE Jerren Dowell from 17 yards out with a slow screen pass to cement the decision 39-27.
When asked about the play of Stewert, Central Coach Traye Aric replied, "a big time player made a big time play," referring to Stewart’s late touchdown pass and the interception.
"We had them against the ropes and could have put it away, but we didn’t," Aric said, something he plans to discuss with his team this week.
Aric credited part of the comeback to a few players who were playing both sides of the ball who might have put it "in cruise control to try and save their bodies a little bit," but mostly gave credit to a never-give-up Mt. Juliet squad.
"Alex (Raines) was sick tonight and played with a fever," he added. "The catch, I can’t wait to go back tonight and watch that on film. I don’t know how he came down with it."
Mt. Juliet Coach Roger Perry said he was excited with the fight and the character his young football team showed, when the game could have gotten out of hand early.
Central’s Cody Clawson blocked punt late in the first quarter and recovered the ball in end zone.
Perry said that could have been a game killer, but his team fought back.
Every big play made by either team was answered quickly with another from their opponent. The points and the plays came fast, something Arick contributed to a whole-team effort.
Bright spots for the Golden Bears included the kicking game of Tyler Emmetts which netted 42- and a 30-yard field goals, as well as strong kickoffs which gave Central a long field ahead.
Running back tandem of Collin and Brady Earnhardt also infused excitement into the Mt. Juliet running attack, bring both speed and power with their carries, combining for three touchdowns.