By Brian Mull
Special to the College Sports Journal
Late in the fourth quarter last Saturday night everything went wrong for the Campbell football team, until it all went right.
The Camels’ mistakes and penalties allowed Davidson to erase a 14-point deficit and take a one-point lead in the final minute. The visitors’ furious rally silenced the home side of Barker-Lane Stadium and deflated the Campbell sidelines.
The tense situation created the most dramatic moment in Big South Conference football this season. In three quick plays, the Camels maneuvered into field goal range. Campbell coach Mike Minter just wanted his kicker to have a fair chance to score the winning points. With an accurate snap and clean hold, Minter believed in Colin Gary’s leg even if the stats – 4 of 11 in his career, 1 of 2 on the night, career-long of 37 yards – said otherwise.
Gary, a senior captain, drilled a 50-yard game winner as time expired, giving the Camels an improbable 31-29 victory, setting a school record and saving his team from what would have been a debilitating defeat.
“As soon as I kicked it I knew it was perfect,” Gary said. “I got under it a little too much. It was the longest hang time I’ve ever had.”
The Perfect Kick
What was it like, watching the football soar through the night toward the goalpost, the kick’s final destination determining the game’s outcome?
“I can’t even explain it to be honest,” he said. “I was sitting back there, saying, please keep on going.”
After the ball dropped across the crossbar with two yards to spare, Gary ran and hugged holder Brad Dennis and Jackson Hayes, the long snapper. Gary’s teammates poured onto the field and piled atop him, then lifted him on their shoulders and carried him to the sidelines.
Minter played 10 seasons for the Carolina Panthers, made 18 tackles in Super Bowl XXVIII and is in his seventh year as Campbell’s head coach. He’s played a part in many wild moments on the field, including a double overtime victory over St. Louis in the 2004 NFC Divisional Playoffs.
Nothing else compares to the final minutes against Davidson.
The Camels led 28-14 with less than three minutes remaining.
“We played the worst last five minutes known to man,” he said.
Davidson, a triple option team with 100 yards passing in the game, drove 84 yards in three plays with only one completion, pulling within 28-27 with 23 seconds showing on a 19-yard touchdown pass. Officials reviewed the scoring catch and during the delay, Davidson players convinced coach Paul Nichols to attempt a 2-point conversion. The Wildcats converted. Campbell had allowed 15 points in 2:20 and sat on the precipice, looking down at a soul-stomping defeat.
Disbelief was the overwhelming feeling on the Campbell sideline, Minter said.
“I was pretty sick,” Minter said. “I wasn’t sitting there positive thinking. I was doing no thinking. I’m just watching.”
An analytics report Minter uses gave the Camels an eight percent chance of winning at that point. Gary headed for the practice net on the sidelines and started kicking.
“As soon as I saw Davidson pooch kick (the ensuing kickoff) I knew we were going to get in range,” said Gary, a Carrollton, Va. native and former soccer player who started kicking for Smithfield HS as a sophomore.
Before the Camels received the kickoff, special teams coordinator Hunter Somerville asked Gary what yard line the team needed to reach for him to feel comfortable. The Davidson 35, he said. Somerville relayed the information to offensive coordinator Nick Grimes.
Out of timeouts, the Camels kicking unit waited on the sidelines in “Mayday mode,” prepared to run onto the field with the clock running, if necessary, and launch a field goal before time expired.
Starting at their own 38, Campbell reached the Davidson 33 in three plays. Freshman quarterback Hajj-Malik Williams scrambled out-of-bounds to stop the clock with six seconds remaining.
Neither Somerville nor Minter spoke to Gary in the seconds preceding his kick.
“He’s always cool, calm and collected. He never gets too high or too low,” Somerville said.
“Our coaches do a great job of preparing us for that situation,” Gary said. “Did I ever expect it to happen? Not really, because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime situation for a kicker to have that opportunity. But it happened and practice paid off.”
#FCS Plays of the Week 🏈
1️⃣ | It all came down to a 50 yard kick😱😱 With just 6 seconds to go, Colin Gary takes on the biggest kick of his life and delivers a win for @GoCamelsFB, 31-29. pic.twitter.com/8lM95Z7HQh
— FCS Football (@NCAA_FCS) September 24, 2019
When the Camels crept inside Gary’s range, Minter didn’t hesitate to send the kicking team onto the field.
“We know Colin has a strong leg,” Minter said. “History doesn’t say that but we know he can kick 50-yard field goals. We’ve seen it a thousand times in practice. We’ve just never been in that predicament where we had to go do it.”
During a typical field goal attempt, Minter stands where he can’t see the kick’s result. On Saturday night, he changed position, moving downfield for an unobstructed view of the goalposts.
“I didn’t want to overdo it because then it might not go right down the middle,” Gary said. “I’m just lucky it was 50 and not 55 because then I would have to lower the trajectory a little bit. I didn’t try to crush that one, I just wanted to get it right down the middle.”
Minter believes the play could be the turning point in Campbell’s season. In the short term, the Camels head to Mercer this week with a 2-1 record, which feels much, much better than the alternative.
“It proves to everybody that’s part of the program that we know how to win,” Minter said. “You’ve got to be able to win a game like that when freaky stuff goes on. When you find a way to win the game, it gives you confidence – no matter what’s going on, we can win the football game. Any team that goes into a game thinking that way, they’re going to be tough to beat.”