Perryville and Dexter battled into triple overtime before the Pirates finally escaped with a 47-41 win over the Bearcats to claim the Class 3, District 1 championship on Friday at Pirate Field.
"It was a great game," said obviously disappointed Dexter coach Aaron Pixley. "It's a shame we lost. Perryville made one more play than we did. You've got to tip your hat to them because they kept fighting when they were down and kept making huge plays to get back in it and win it."
The biggest play of all, an 87-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Cory Buerck to wide receiver Clinton Rice with just 16 seconds left in regulation, capped an improbable Pirate comeback to tie the game at 28-28.
On the play, Pixley said, "We had everybody covered and our guy was trying to make a play, trying to intercept the ball, and he just didn't get to it. It's a shame it happened with 16 seconds left in the game, just when you think you've got them stopped and they've got to come up with a huge play to win it. That really got Perryville going."
With each team scoring on its possession, the first overtime ended with the score still deadlocked at 35-35.
Dexter scored first on a 15-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kyle Espey to tight end Aaron Lavender. Derek Roberts extra-point kick sent the Bearcats ahead 35-28.
Perryville, facing elimination with a failure to score, countered with a 5-yard touchdown pass from (Cory) Buerck to wideout Greg Wibbenmeyer. Wibbenmeyer's point-after kick sailed through the uprights to send the thriller to a second overtime.
Perryville won the coin toss and took possession at the Dexter 25. On the first play, Cory Buerck hit Phillip Buerck in the left flat. Phillip sprinted down the left sideline for the score. Wibbenmeyer's extra-point kick was blocked as the Pirates took their first lead of the ballgame at 41-35.
The Bearcats, again on the first play, struck for six when Espey hit Jake Smith on a 25-yard touchdown pass, tying the score at 41-41 with a chance to win with an extra point.
But Roberts' kick hit the crossbar and bounced back into the field of play, precipitating a third overtime.
Dexter won this coin toss and, after a motion penalty and a 2-yard loss on a pass play, was intercepted by Matt Unterreiner.
(Cory) Buerck wasted no time finding wide receiver Kirk Luckey in the end zone for the gamewinner.
"I haven't had any touchdowns this whole year," said the senior Luckey, "then to catch two tonight plus the gamewinner in the district championship game…that's unbelievable.
"This shows a lot about our team, the character of this team." (Cory) Buerck enjoyed a career night with 13 completions in 20 attempts for 283 yards and five touchdowns, while Luckey was the leading receiver with 85 yards on four catches and the two scores.
Favored Dexter (6-4) and Perryville (5-5) entered the showdown with identical 2-0 district records and, early on, it was all Bearcats.
Dexter led 7-0 after the first period and 22-7 at the half. Tailback Alex Becker, who rushed for a game-high 113 yards, scored on two 1-yard plunges and a 32-yard screen pass from quarterback Kyle Espey. The Dexter defense added two points on a safety when Bryan Pennington pinned Pirate running back Unterreiner in the end zone.
Perryville tallied its lone first-half touchdown on a 1-yard dive by Unterreiner, following a turnover at the Bearcat 25.
Dexter opened the second half with a 90-yard kickoff return by Jake Smith to lift the Bearcats to a, seemingly, insurmountable 28-7 lead.
But the Pirates, on a 35-yard (Cory) Buerck to Luckey touchdown pass, capped a 77-yard drive to narrow the gap to 28-13 with 4:55 remaining in the third quarter.
At the 1:06 mark, the Pirates converted a Dexter fumble recovery into another score, a 2-yard sneak by (Cory) Buerck, to slice the margin to 28-21, setting up the improbable game-tying score.
Rick Chastain, in the second year of his second stint as Pirate head coach -- he guided the program from 1985-1991 -- led Perryville to its first district title since 1998.
"We talked all year long about when you get an opportunity in life you've got to take it," he said. "You may never get a second chance. Our kids wanted it pretty bad tonight. I could see in their eyes that they could smell the blood and they went after it.
"Dexter is a very fine ballclub and we just feel honored and blessed to be able to play with a team like that."
An obviously disappointed Pixley said, "We didn't lose for lack of effort. We made some mistakes, but our kids kept trying. I'm very proud of them. They gave all they had tonight."