Virginia Union is becoming astute at improbable rallies.
Jussie York’s one-handed touchdown catch from 37 yards out on the final play lifted the Panthers to a 27-26 win against J.C. Smith in the CIAA opener Saturday, capping their second straight come-from-behind win.
Virginia Union (3-1), which matched its victory total from 2013, scored two touchdowns over the final 3 minutes, 19 seconds to stun the Golden Bulls (1-3) despite five turnovers.
“This game shows how much we’ve got to show Division II we can play,” said York, a junior receiver who caught six passes for 109 yards and two scores. “Last year they were 3-7, so everybody’s thinking we’re not good. We’re going to show the world we’re different.”
With one second to play, York’s job was simple: Get deep down the left sideline. His brother, slot receiver Lenworth Lennon, ran a pattern across the field to draw coverage to the middle and leave York in single coverage.
Backup quarterback Kenneth Graham heaved the ball toward the goal line, and York reached out hip-high to snare it as he crossed the goal line.
“(Lennon) told me he was going to cut across the safety just to hold him so I could do what I’ve got to do,” York said. “(Graham) just floated the ball into the air, and I had to catch it.”
J.C. Smith had the game in hand when Keahn Wallace hit Fred Scott with a 4-yard dart for a 26-15 lead with 6:30 left, but Virginia Union responded to the challenge.
Graham, who hit 12 of 16 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns, connected with Danta Gross from 38 yards to pull the Panthers to within 5. On the next possession, Virginia Union marched 80 yards in 49 seconds for the winner.
“I’m still kind of amazed at how that unfolded,” J.C. Smith coach Steve Aycock said. “We had our opportunities. They had a big catch at the end to get behind us and I’ve got to take my hat off to (York). The football gods were good to him today.”
J.C. Smith, which had scored 13 points in three previous games, turned up its offensive productivity after Wallace (26-of-44, 231 yards, 2 TDs) was benched in the second quarter.
He returned to spark the Golden Bulls with an 8-yard pass to Michael Rhynes for a 19-9 lead in the third and, after the strike to Scott, put J.C. Smith in position to win.
“It took coach pulling me to make me understand it’s not about me, it’s about the team,” Wallace said. “Also, pulling me gave me a chance to observe, catch on and get a feeling for what’s going on.”