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By JOEL COLEMAN
Ackerman's worst-to-first comeback is now complete.
One season after suffering through a 1-10 campaign and finishing dead last in Class 2A, Region 2, the Indians captured this year's division title in dramatic fashion Friday night, beating Hamilton 41-35 in double overtime.
"This feels great," said Ackerman running back K.J. Woods. "We just came out here and fought until the end."
Woods rushed 42 times for 207 yards and five touchdowns in the contest, including the game-winning score for the Indians.
The senior proved to be a difference-maker in the much-anticipated showdown of teams who each entered the game undefeated in district play.
"(Woods) played like a senior and played like the leader we needed him to be," said Ackerman head coach Adam Dillinger. "We're glad to have him back. We missed him for a few games (due to injury), but he just kept working and had a big night."
The Indians (8-3 overall, 5-0 in Class 2A, Region 2) turned to Woods early and often throughout the game and the bruising tailback capitalized on multiple occasions, starting with his first touchdown run, a 4-yard scamper, late in the first quarter that put Ackerman up 7-0 after Roman Ramirez's extra-point.
Woods' night was far from done however.
Though Hamilton tied the game in the second quarter on a 4-yard run by Quinshay Heard, Woods pushed Ackerman back into control shortly after halftime.
With the Indians starting at midfield, Woods capped a two-play drive with a 47-yard touchdown run, pushing Ackerman in front 14-7.
Less than 3 minutes later, Woods was entering the end zone again, this time on a 3-yard carry, to increase the Indians' advantage to 21-7.
With their own division championship hopes on the line, Hamilton (9-2 overall, 4-1 in Class 2A, Region 2) fought back into the game on its ensuing possession.
When Lions quarterback Zarratt Sims found Cojuante McMillian on a 57-yard touchdown strike, it set off a string of 21 unanswered Hamilton points that gave the Lions their first lead of the game at 28-21, midway through the fourth quarter.
"Give credit to Hamilton," said Dillinger. "They made some big plays and they've got some good players and they fought tooth and nail. I give them a lot of credit. But our kids aren't going to give up."
Woods said he did his best to make sure his teammates didn't throw in the towel despite Hamilton's surge.
"I just kept telling everybody not to give up," said Woods. "The game wasn't over. We just had to keep playing."
The Indians in fact did refuse to fold, putting together a 75-yard drive on their ensuing possession that was capped with Woods' fourth touchdown run, tying the game at 28-28.
In the course of the game-tying drive, Ackerman was forced into having to convert on two separate fourth downs, including a critical 4th-and-8 pass completion when quarterback Dakota Brasher found Lavonte Miller, who caught the ball in heavy traffic over the middle of the field.
Brasher made another clutch throw in the first overtime period when he hit Dylan Bagwell on a 12-yard touchdown pass to give Ackerman a 35-28 lead.
Hamilton answered right back on its first overtime possession courtesy of a 10-yard scoring run by Sims, sending the game into double-overtime.
That's when Brasher made his presence felt on the defensive side of the ball, intercepting a Sims pass during the Lions' opening drive of double-overtime, setting the stage for Woods to finish things off.
Starting at the Hamilton 10-yard line, Brasher handed the ball to Woods on three straight plays before Woods just got over the goal-line on a 4-yard run to give the Indians the district championship.
It was sweet redemption for Woods and his team after all the struggles of a year ago.
"Last year had a huge effect on us," said Woods. "Over the summer, we came and worked hard and just wanted to be a better team."
Ackerman now has a district championship that proves last year is in the past.
It's all just a result of determination according to Dillinger.
"Our kids are resilient," said Dillinger. "You go 1-10 one year and then you have to come back and go to work, you've got to be resilient to do that and our kids did it."
As such, the Indians will now host a first-round playoff game next week against the No. 4 seed from Class 2A, Region 4.
With that in mind, Woods said the Indians aren't finished with the winning just yet.
"We're nowhere near done," said Woods.