Southview got down early, trailed after three quarters, and looked to be on the ropes in Friday night's opener before a crowd of more than 6,000 fans at the Glass Bowl.
But, thanks to a few established stars, plus a new one, the Cougars rallied for 22 fourth-quarter points to take a 36-26 victory over St. Francis de Sales to spoil the debut for Knights coach Mike Blochowski.
Southview's more familiar go-to guys - junior receiver/defensive back Allen Gant and senior quarterback De'Nard Pinckney - certainly delivered.
Gant caught six passes for 139 yards to go with solid defensive play, and Pinckney rushed for 76 yards and passed for 56. Each scored a touchdown.
But it was senior import David Vandercook, the Cougars' "other quarterback" in a two-man rotation, who was the game's trump card.
Vandercook - who transferred from Florida to the Sylvania school last spring to help lead the Cougar baseball team to Northern Lakes League and Division I district titles - was a perfect 8-for-8 passing for 167 yards and three touchdowns in the game.
"They got hit in the mouth and knocked down, and they came back up swinging,"
Cougars coach Jim Mayzes said of his team. "Allen Gant lived up to his reputation tonight, and so did De'Nard Pinckney. Ray Okdie and the whole offensive line also.
"We took a lot of hits. They really nailed us on defense. But we made some adjustments at halftime, and I'm so proud of them. They worked so hard. I think we're going to have a good football season."
Southview trailed 26-14 after Shannen Wesley had intercepted Pinckney to ultimately set up Knight junior quarterback Andy Meinert's 30-yard TD pass to wide-open tight end Nathan White with 1:39 left in the third quarter.
That's when the tide turned on one huge play from Vandercook to Gant.
Faced with a second-and-32 from his 12, Vandercook fired deep downfield to Gant, who caught the pass at midfield and turned it into an 87-yard gain to the Knight 1 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
"We didn't quit," Gant said. "I told the boys at halftime, 'We aren't quitters.' The same thing happened [27-8 loss to St. Francis] last year here. But this time, my guys had a lot of fight, and I'm proud of them.
"All I've got to say is the Cougars are back."
Pinckney sneaked in from there to get Southview within 26-21, and the Cougar defense responded by forcing a St. Francis punt. Punter Michael McGowen pinned the Cougars back on their 19, but that mattered little on the next play. Southview senior running back Ja'Darian Bowers bolted around left end 81 yards for what proved to be the game-winning TD with 9:17 remaining.
After the Cougars stopped St. Francis on downs, Vandercook capped his memorable debut by firing a fourth-and-13 pass 23 yards to David Renner for the game's final TD and some insurance.
"You can't allow one-play drives, and that's what we did today," Blochowski said. "We've got to get better defensively, there's no doubt about that.
"We can move the ball in a lot of different ways, and we showed that today. Unfortunately, we didn't stop anybody. It's disappointing. It's unacceptable at St. Francis."
Southview rolled up 517 yards in total offense, with 237 of that coming in the final 12 minutes. St. Francis, which had 336 total yards, was paced by Meinert's 91 yards on 12 carries and his 76 passing yards.
The Knights took a 13-0 lead in the first quarter on TD runs of 26 yards from Meinert and four yards from tailback Jacob Wawrzyniak.
Southview rallied to a 14-13 lead in the second quarter, with Vandercook hitting a pair of TD passes - 13 yards to Bowers and 14 yards to Gant.
"This was incredible," a seemingly awestruck Vandercook said in the postgame celebration. "I didn't experience anything like this in Florida. I can't even describe it.
"I didn't expect anything like this. It was luck a little bit. My number was called and the plays were right there. You can't ask for anything else."
St. Francis took a 20-14 lead to halftime thanks to backup QB Justin Chandler's 50-yard touchdown run on an option keeper up the middle 28 seconds before halftime.
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