Hillcrest linebacker Brady Sainz roared to the crowd — his teammates surrounding him, watching the emotional core of Hillcrest make one of the team's biggest plays of the season.
After missing the first five weeks due to injury, and maybe the last time the senior may ever play at Thunder Stadium, Sainz made one the biggest plays of his high school career late Friday night during the 4A quarterfinal round between Hillcrest and Middleton.
On fourth down, with about four minutes left to play, Sainz chased down and sacked Middleton quarterback Dallas Hagler to cause a turnover on downs. He roared towards the sideline, gesticulating towards the crowd as Hillcrest's Oakley Hussey and Middleton's Carson Smith congratulated each other near the sideline.
Hillcrest quarterback Kyle Austin — who called Friday, "the most fun game he's ever played" — eventually milked out the clock to help the Knights beat the Vikings, 21-17, during a game that saw four different lead changes (three in the second half alone).
"These are my guys, and I love them," Sainz said. "So I just want to spread my passion to the rest of the team.
"I love this game more than anything," Sainz added.
An emotionally-draining game that saw Middleton lead by three heading into the fourth quarter before Austin scored on a 16-yard run with 5:49 left, also saw two teams battle with a common foe: time.
Hillcrest, en route to its first semifinal round appearance since 2011, is savoring time. It will play Nampa next week, reaching some uncharted football it hasn't reached in close to a decade.
Middleton, which ends its season at 8-3, ran out of it.
"It's not the outcome we had planned, our kids played hard, we just ran out of time," Middleton coach Bill Brock said, who complimented his quarterback play late. Hagler converted one fourth down (a 13-yard pass to Tyler Robinett) before being sacked by Sainz.
Hagler would eventually finish with 238 passing yards and two touchdowns on 14 of 41 passing. He also had one interception, as Middleton mostly relied on its air attack to keep up with Hillcrest.
"They made a play when they needed to and we didn't. That's the way those games go down. They usually go down to a play or two," Brock added.
After Hillcrest scored first on a Trae Henry nine-yard run, Middleton responded before half with Hagler finding Jace Rogers on a 5-yard, juggling catch to tie Friday's matchup at 7-7.
On the second play of the second half, Austin responded with a 74-yard run (which saw the quarterback leap over falling defenders and teammates before hustling down the left sideline).
The Vikings answered with 10-straight points, including a Hagler-Smith 63-yard connection down the middle of Hillcrest's passing defense.
"I gotta give respect to Middleton," said Austin, who finished with 246 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. He intercepted Hagler during the first drive of Friday's game.
"Both teams gave it their all and this is probably the most fun game I've ever played in my life because both teams left everything on the field," Austin added.
Hussey also had 20-plus touches for the Knights' potent rushing attack, finishing with 181 yards on 26 carries.
He also had one fumble, coming with 8:28 left in regulation, but the Knights held Middleton scoreless following Neal Weber's 27-yard field goal to end the third quarter.
"It was a great game. We haven't really seem adversity since Skyline, we've been kind of pounding cats, so it was really huge and big opportunity for us to step up as a team," Sainz said.