Arnold FG lifts Bears over 'Cats Football

For three quarters, Hammond's defense held the spotlight. Then senior kicker Neil Arnold stepped forward and delivered the heroics.

Hammond, limiting Wilde Lake to 41 yards in the first 36 minutes, built a 13-0 lead. But the Wildecats put together 76- and 50-yard touchdown drives in the final quarter to go ahead 14-13 with 1:39 remaining.


The Golden Bears then moved 48 yards to set up Arnold. And with the clock showing no time left, his 35-yard field goal produced the decisive points in host Hammond's 16-14 win yesterday.

Hammond coaches, players and fans went into a frenzy, as the Golden Bears (4-2, 2-1) beat Wilde Lake (3-3, 2-1) for the first time since 1986, and only the fourth time in their 17-year rivalry.


"I was really nervous, but I knew I had to pull through and I couldn't let my team down," said Arnold, who kicked his longest field goal ever. "I stuck it right through the posts."

After Wilde Lake back Mike Green's 4-yard scoring run and Luke Watson's conversion created the one-point deficit, Hammond took over for the winning drive on its own 25.

Hammond coach Joe Russo replaced starting quarterback Jeff Price with the quicker Tim Spruill, who ran the offense from the shotgun.

A 15-yard face-mask penalty and Spruill's 26 yards of scrambling helped move the ball to Wilde Lake's 36 with 46 seconds left. The next play nearly sealed Hammond's fate, but defensive back Sean Dunford dropped a sure interception.

The Golden Bears gained four yards in two plays, and on fourth down with six seconds left, Arnold appeared for a 50-yard attempt.

His kick fell way short, but the Wildecats were flagged for roughing the kicker, giving him another chance from 15 yards closer. Wilde Lake tried to freeze Arnold with a timeout, but his kick was perfect.

"We knew we could beat them," said Spruill (13 carries, 63 yards). "We lost to Southern, 40-0, the first game of the season, and they lost to Southern, 48-0, so we thought this would be the county championship."

Russo said, "It's a big victory for our school and makes me very happy that our kids just hung in there until the end and played as hard as they could."


Wilde Lake coach Doug Duvall said, "They played good defense, but we didn't play good offense. It didn't make any difference what defense they were in, whether odd or even, we just didn't block them."

Of his own defense being unable to stop Hammond on the final drive, he said, "It happens in football. You got to be able to slam the door when it's time to slam the door and we didn't."