BRUSLY - Should Livonia or Brusly go on to distinguish themselves in their respective district races and into the Class 3A state playoffs, they may look back at their Week 5 classic as a reason why.
"Neither team should lose a game like this," Livonia football coach David Brewerton said. "But what it does for both teams later in the year is that we've now been through a war and are battle-tested, and that's only going to help down the line."
For the first time in three years, the two teams were seperated into different districts, with No. 9 Livonia needing Mark Lewis' 3-yard scoring run in the third overtime on Friday to fend off Brusly 26-20 and spoil the Panthers' homecoming.
The victory wasn't secured until defensive back Aljire Joseph picked off a deflected pass from Blake Manola on second-and-goal to keep the Wildcats (5-0) undefeated and stop a two-game losing streak to the Panthers.
"You never want to lose a game, but I'm very proud of our kids," Brusly coach Erik Willis said.
Brusly (3-2) forced overtime at 20-20 when Manola, a sophomore making his first start in place of injured Jay Christophe, drove the Panthers six plays, keyed by a perfectly thrown back-shoulder pass to Travin Thibodeaux for 19 yards near the sideline that set up Manola's 2-yard scoring run and subsequent 2-point pass to Donald Collins.
Christophe injured his knee on the final play of Wednesday's practice and was on the sideline in street clothes. He's expected to return for next week's district opener against E.D. White.
"He's our leader and been our go-to guy all year and bailing us out," Willis said of Christophe. "But I believe in this loss, we got better than any other game this year. I can't wait until next week."
Both teams missed field goals in the first overtime, with Manola's 35-yard effort hitting the crossbar. Livonia, which recovered a fumble on Brusly's first play in the second overtime, had a potential game-winner from 22 yards out blocked by Kwanston Adkins.
Livonia scored the go-ahead touchdown when leading rusher Lewis (29-109) scored from 3 yards out on third-and-goal. The Wildcats' two-point conversion pass was incomplete.
Lewis, the state's leading scorer with 80 points, gained 72 of his team-high yards on 27 carries in the second half.
"They loaded up the box and tried to take him away, which they did a great job of," Brewerton said. "Our kids responded to some changes scheme-wise, and I think we did a pretty good job and he got going a little bit the second half. He's fun to watch. He's powerful. He didn't break any long ones, but he got us the tough yards we needed, especially toward the end."
Brusly's final possession went in reverse with a delay of game penalty followed by no gain on second down. Manola, who was 3-of-9 for 67 yards and two touchdowns, rolled to his right, but his final attempt was deflected into the air and Joseph intercepted.
Brusly rushed 48 times for 263 yards with Sharrod Patterson leading the way with 112 yards on 14 carries. Brendon Alexander added 89 yards on 14 attempts and caught his team's first touchdown - an 11-yarder from Manola for a 6-0 lead in the first quarter.
Livonia, which came in averaging 43.5 points, countered with a big-play offense that generated 353 yards with quarterback Mason Torres accounting for three touchdowns. Torres completed 8-of-19 passes for 213 yards and 2 TDs of 87 yards to tight end Brandon Armand (2-100) and 74 yards to Diante Bridgewater (3-72) to cap the Wildcats' first series of the third quarter.
Brusly took advantage of an overturned call that wiped out a touchdown and potential two-touchdown lead for Livonia and turned the new-found life into points to only trail 14-12 halftime.
Livonia appeared to take a 20-6 lead with just over two minutes left before halftime on Torres' 30-yard strike to a diving Darius Howard across the goal line only to have the effort waved off following an conference an official's conference.
Brusly pulled within two points when wide receiver Travin Thibodeaux, despite contact along the sideline, managed to haul in Manola's 37-yard pass for a touchdown with 11 seconds to play. Manola's two-point attempt for Thibodeaux fell incomplete.
"I can't say enough about our defense and our defensive staff, led by Steve Thomas," Brewerton said. "To watch our kids from a year ago give up the points they did and to fight until the absolute last play. How fitting the game ends on an interception. I can't be more proud of our kids."