WESTVILLE — All Turner Pullen and Shelbyville's offense wanted was some time on the clock and another chance to prove it could get the game-winning score.
After Westville went up 44-43 in the fourth quarter, the Rams drove to the Westville 28-yard line. But a penalty hurt the Rams and they couldn't convert on fourth-and-16.
So with 2 minutes remaining, the Rams defense, which had been gashed for chunks of yardage at times in the second half, had to find a way to step up and get the ball back into Pullen's hands.
The Rams got the crucial defense stand it needed, and Shelbyville's offense got the ball back at its own 43-yard line with 1:01 left in the clock. Pullen became a surgeon on the field as he hit Cade Watson for 12 yards, Brett Spears for 15 yards and Kentrell Beck for 16 yards and the Rams offense was suddenly at the Westville 14-yard line with 30 seconds remaining.
That's when Shelbyville coach Bill Duckett caught Westville off guard and called a play that wasn't even in the playbook last week. Pullen took the quarterback draw and went almost untouched for a 14-yard touchdown run to give the Rams a 51-44 lead with 26 seconds left.
It proved to be the game-winning score as Beck intercepted a pass with 8 seconds left and Shelbyville advanced to the Class 2A state semifinals with a 51-44 nail-biter over Westville. It was Westville's first loss of the season.
Pullen knew if the offense was given another chance, it would come through with the score it needed to advance to the semifinals.
"It was crazy. They are a great team, Westville played a great game today, but I knew we had the receivers and they would get out of bounds and something great was going to happen," Pullen said. "I just knew we could come back in that game. We've done that before, marched down the field, but a minute isn't that much time. It's an unbelievable feeling."
The play Pullen scored on was a simple quarterback draw, but it wasn't put into the Rams' playbook until defensive tackle Kam Roley suggested it this week. Pullen read the linebacker perfectly and hit the right hole to go on a 14-yard scamper for the go-ahead touchdown with 26 seconds left.
"(Cameron Nicholas) is a good player and really good linebacker, but I just got to the middle, saw an open lane to the left and it felt great," Pullen said. "We just put that in this week. We were sitting in the coach's office after school and our defensive tackle put it in. Just out of the blue. But it worked and every time we ran it, we got a first down out of it."
Pullen finished with 185 yards rushing and five touchdowns on 18 carries. He also passed for 245 yards and a score.
Duckett had just as much confidence in his offense's ability to go down the field and score as his quarterback did. And he knew his quarterback could find the end zone on the draw play.
"When we got the ball back there, I felt we could go and score for sure," Duckett said. "They were selling out and sending everyone deep, and we want the ball in Turner's hands there. Even if he got tackled, there were still about (20 seconds) if he didn't get the first down and we could still get a quick play off. He's a tough runner and tough competitor and it worked out for us."
The game-winning drive wouldn't have been possible if it wasn't for the defense. After the turnover on downs, Westville had the ball with 2:00 left. One first down was all the Tigers needed to run out the clock since Shelbyville only had two timeouts left. Westville had 13 first downs in the second half, but couldn't get a 14th one. The Rams stopped the first run for a loss of 2. The Tigers couldn't recover and had to punt.
"That was big. We knew we had to get that stop," Pullen said. "I just told the linemen that we had to penetrate and the linebackers have to fill. It's our senior year and we definitely wanted to win that game. It just feels really good. We got a little nervous (after the turnover on downs), but we knew if we got a stop, we still had time to score."
Shelbyville led for most of the game. Pullen scored on both a 24-yard run and a 10-yard run for a 12-0 Rams lead in the first quarter. Westville did get a 2-yard run by Cameron Nicholas to make it 12-8 going into the second quarter.
Pullen scored on a 51-yard run early in the second quarter, and then on the kickoff, Tylan Stricklett had the ball stripped and Eli Houska went 9 yards for the score to make it 24-8.
Westville had an answer, going 58 yards in 13 plays and scoring on Owen Mariage-Tucker's 3-yard touchdown run. Brett Spears took the kickoff and went all the way from the left hash mark to the right sideline and went 76 yards for the touchdown to put Shelbyville up 30-14.
Then with a minute to go before halftime, the Rams took a commanding lead when Pullen took a shot down the field and Watson caught it and went 78 yards for the touchdown to put Shelbyville up 37-14 going into halftime.
Westville caught Shelbyville off guard to start the second half. The Rams were scheduled to receive the kickoff to start the half, but the Tigers recovered an on-side kick. Westville quickly scored on a Mariage-Tucker 6-yard run.
Then Westville did the same thing and recovered another on-side kick. The Tigers marched down the field and scored on a 3-yard run by Gaige Wright, and Shelbyville's lead was cut to 37-29 with 5:36 left in the third quarter.
"Special teams were big for us and then bad for us in the second half," Duckett said. "That's tough. That kicker, he's a big, solid dude and that's a good play for them. They did once or twice, hadn't been doing it a bunch, but the way they did it with (Nicholas), he's a big dude and it's tough to stop him. Tried to get guys there, it just didn't happen for us."
Shelbyville responded and scored on a 2-yard run by Pullen, but Westville got the score back with 36 seconds in the third quarter on a 4-yard run by Nicholas to make it 43-36. Mariage-Tucker finished with 221 yards rushing with 122 of those coming in the second half.
"I don't know if we wore down or what," Duckett said. "We were playing similar, they are just a good running team. Credit to them."
Westville tried another on-side kick and recovered it, but the Rams stopped the Tigers' drive at the 5-yard line and Westville turned the ball over on downs.
The Tigers had another shot after Shelbyville's punt, but the Rams forced Westville into a fourth-and-26 at the Rams' 46-yard line. With less than 5 minutes to go, Westville had to take the chance. Duncan Hathaway threw deep and Stricklett got a bit ahead of the defensive back and hauled in the reception and went 46 yards for the score.
Westville was going to try to tie the game with an extra point, but Shelbyville jumped offsides. The Tigers had a change of heart, and Hathaway found Stricklett for the two-point conversion to put Westville up 44-43.
Still, Shelbyville had one score left in them, and Pullen's 14-yard game-winning run gave the Rams a 51-44 lead and a trip to the state semifinals where they host Maroa-Forsyth at 1:30 p.m. next Saturday.
"It gives a little confidence to them," Duckett said. "It was great to see and to have the semifinal at home coming up is great."