The Matanzas Pirates were down. And with less than a minute left in the first quarter, senior Jordan Mills appeared to be out.
Mills had dislocated his right shoulder — the same shoulder on which he had surgery earlier this year. But after the Pirates’ trainer popped the bone back in place, Mills came back. Then he delivered Matanzas a comeback victory.
The defensive back picked up a fumble with 4:39 left in the game and ran 15 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Three minutes later, he intercepted a pass to seal the Pirates’ 20-14 triumph at Tocoi Creek on Friday, Sept. 1.
“Jordan is a special young man. He’s earned everything he’s got,” Matanzas football coach Matt Forrest said after the game. “When he battles and battles and battles and he gets hurt again and things just aren't going his way, and then he makes two big plays to help us win the football game, it's just one of those things where I'm happy for him, because he's just a great human being.”
It was a surreal night for the Pirates who improved to 2-0 for the first time since 2016. Senior kicker Landon Grover booted two field goals, including a school-record 54-yarder in the first quarter. The defense scored both Matanzas touchdowns with Braden Russell picking off a first-quarter pass and running 40 yards for the score.
Matanzas forced five Tocoi Creek turnovers, but the Pirates turned the ball over four times themselves. After struggling to move the ball in the first half, Matanzas senior Cole Hash broke loose for an apparent 64-yard touchdown run on the second play of the third quarter. But the touchdown was called back because of holding. Later in the quarter, Hash appeared to score again on a 5-yard run, but he fumbled in the end zone, and the Toros recovered for a touchback.
The Pirates finally took the lead for good at 17-14 when Seth Clark sacked Toros quarterback Ryan Killmer forcing a fumble, and Mills scooped up the ball and scored. Hash scored the 2-point conversion.
“I saw the ball, I picked it up and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, this is exactly what we needed,’” Mills said.
After the game, Forrest told his players that this was the best win he's ever had in his four years as the Pirates’ head coach.
“You found a way. You scratched and clawed,” he said. “On the sideline you believed.”
Grover’s 36-yard field goal put the Pirates up 20-14 with 3:03 left. And Mills put the game away with the Pirates’ third interception on the night (Andre Andrews also picked off a Killmer pass).
Mills — who missed the final three games of the season last year after injuring his shoulder — couldn’t lift his right arm over his head when he left the game in the final minutes of the first quarter.
I was like, there's no way that I'm coming out and let my team down again. I'm going to get this popped back in. I asked the trainer, ‘Am I good to go?’ He was like, ‘Yes sir. It’s your senior season, go out there and do your thing.’” — JORDAN MILLS
“I was like, there's no way that I'm coming out and let my team down again,” he said. “I'm going to get this popped back in. I asked the trainer, ‘Am I good to go?’ He was like, ‘Yes sir. It’s your senior season, go out there and do your thing.’ And I knew I had to go out there and get my team back in the game.’”
When he re-entered the game, Mills said a little prayer.
“I thanked the Lord that I could get (the bone) back in and I could move my arm around and have mobility. I just said a prayer of gratitude," he said. "As the game went on, the pain was going away.”
Grover’s 54-yard boot was 11 yards farther than his previous long field goal. It followed a delay-of-game penalty against the Pirates when they lined up to run a play on fourth down.
Despite the five penalty yards that pushed his field goal attempt to well over 50 yards, Grover’s confidence never wavered.
“I mean, in practice, I hit that like nothing,” he said. “So it was just another day.”
When the ball flew through the uprights, Grover leaped in the air.
“That was one of the most insane moments. My heart was beating out of my chest. It was a great experience,” he said.
Just credit our guys for rallying and battling and finding a way to win. It was awesome to watch.” — MATT FORREST, Matanzas coach
The Toros (1-1) led 14-9 at the half on Killmer’s two touchdown passes to Julio Santiago.
Matanzas quarterback Dakwon Evans, playing in his first regular-season game since Sept. 9, 2022, threw three interceptions. But he shook off the rust in the second half to finish with 146 total yards.
“Our offense sputtered a little bit in the first half,” Forrest said. “It was Dakwon’s first game back and there was some timing that was off. But our defense answered the bell and created turnovers and made plays.
"I told them we just got to band together and find a way. Tocoi’s a heck of a program. I’ve got a lot of respect for them and what they’ve been able to do since they opened (in 2021). Just credit our guys for rallying and battling and finding a way to win. It was awesome to watch.”