Before the first-time Division 1-4A champions could completely get out of the hole they dug early, the sides -- as well as an impressive season -- caved in with a 15-10 loss to Byhalia.
“We picked a bad night to play bad,” Corinth Head Coach Doug Jones said. “Obviously these (18) seniors were real upset after that kind of loss.”
Corinth (10-2) hadn’t lost since falling 28-12 to Lafayette County on Aug. 30 -- a streak of nine straight victories. The Indians, who fell to the same Commodores 50-13 in the final week of the regular season, came in at 3-6.
The Warriors fell to 1-5 in playoff games since reaching the North Half semifinals in 2008. Corinth’s last first-round exit at home was via a 21-14 loss to No. 3 seed Leland in 2009.
Corinth seemed to have avoided the upset when a 1-yard run by Antares Gwyn and John Michael McFall’s ensuing extra-point kick gave the host club its first lead at 10-9 with 1:10 remaining.
Byhalia picked up one first down, but then was left facing a 4th-and-17 from its own 28 with 24 seconds and no timeouts remaining. Chris Rayford split two Corinth defenders and Markiese Rodgers hit him in stride for the go-ahead score with just 11 seconds remaining.
As shocked as the Corinth sideline and faithful were, the Warriors nearly one-upped the crowd ... finishing just seven yards shy and one gassed lineman away from pulling off an improbable miracle.
Following a kickoff out of bounds and a pass interference penalty, Corinth was stationed a midfield with just three seconds left. Gwyn dropped back for a hail mary, but was hit and fumbled around his own 40 as the horn sounded.
An alert Brandon Strickland -- the Warriors right tackle -- scooped up the fumble and headed towards the end zone while the Byhalia players celebrated. The senior picked up a convoy of blockers, but ran into trouble as he reached the red zone and was forced out of bounds at the Byhalia 7.
“You’ve got to tip your hats to them,” said Jones. “They came and beat a one-seed.”
The Warriors had trailed 9-0 at intermission and didn’t get on the board until McFall tied the single-season record with his 12th field goal -- this one from 24 yards out -- with 3:13 left in the third.
Corinth was its own worst enemy most of the night. The Warriors, who had one turnover the previous four games, turned it over twice in their first three possessions.
Byhalia turned the first miscue into a 33-yard field goal by Juan Hernandez with 7:50 left in the first. The Indians didn’t get any points on the next miscue, but it was costly nonetheless as Corinth fumbled the ball into the end zone on what would have been a first-and-goal.
The Indians made it 9-0 with 2:36 remaining in the half, going 87 yards in nine plays -- seven through the air. Rodgers accounted for all the yardage, getting the six points on a 10-yard keeper.
Corinth didn’t get all it could despite a huge gamble by the Indians on their first drive of the second half. Byhalia turned the ball over on downs at its own 11, but would avoid major damage as Corinth netted just four yards before taking the three points.
The Warriors most-impressive drive looked to be the game-winner. A 17-yard reception by Armad Wicks and a 29-yard run by Kendrick Williams gave Corinth a new set of downs at the Byhalia 26 with 3:50 remaining.
One play after Williams converted a third-and-five with a 6-yard run, Gwyn’s score and McFall’s kick gave the Warriors a 10-9 lead with 1:10 remaining.
Byhalia began the final drive at its 20 with no timeouts left following McFall’s 31st touchback of the season.
"We had safeties roaming. We didn't think we had it won,” said Jones. “We were still playing. They made a play at the end."
After being held to just five first downs and 90 total yards in the first half, Corinth finished with 15 first downs and 279 yards on 57 plays. Williams had 81 yards on 18 carries and Brice Spence added 74 on 14 totes.
CHS could never hit the home run, however, recording just five runs of 10 yards or more -- including Strickland’s 53-yard jaunt -- on 45 carries. Gwyn was 5-of-12 for 61 yards, with Wicks hauling in two for 40.
Byhalia finished with nine first downs and 244 yards on 47 plays. The Indians were just 5-of-18 passing, but averaged nearly 28 yards a completion with 139 markers.
Corinth’s defense held its own outside the scoring drives, allowing Byhalia just three first downs and 72 yards on 31 plays over eight of the Indians’ 10 possessions.
Byhalia 15, Corinth 10
Byhalia 3 6 0 6 -- 15
Corinth 0 0 3 7 -- 10
BYH -- Juan Hernandez 33 FG, 7:50
BYH -- Markiese Rodgers 10 run (kick failed), 2:36
COR -- John Michael McFall 24 FG, 3:13
COR -- Antares Gwyn 1 run (McFall kick), 1:10
BYH -- Chris Rayford 72 yard pass from Rodgers (kick failed), 0:11