Dramatic kick return rescues Lancers from impending defeat
By GREGORY BROOME | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 18, 2018
The game was all but lost. The host Kaiserslautern Raiders had just scored another touchdown, this one building their lead to 31-9 minutes before halftime. As the Lakenheath Lancers received the ensuing kickoff, coach Gabe Feletar was looking for answers in the paper he held that showed his team’s so-far ineffective offensive plays.
“Nothing seemed to be working on offense,” Feletar said. “Honestly, on the sideline we kept thinking maybe it wasn’t our day.”
In fact, the day was already being saved.
Lancers kick returner Chris Hayden took that kickoff and returned it 92 yards for a touchdown. After that play, Lakenheath scored 30 more points. The Raiders never scored again. The unlikely final: Lakenheath 46, Kaiserslautern 31.
“I heard cheering, looked up and saw Hayden weaving through traffic in the middle of the field, then outrace everybody down the right sideline,” Feletar said. “I don’t think he was touched.”
To call the play a momentum swing would be to undersell its impact.
Before Hayden’s touchdown, the Lancers were a mess, having given away two fumbles and throwing an interception that the Raiders returned for a touchdown.
After Hayden’s score, the Lancers were unstoppable. At halftime, Lakenheath running back Manny Cordero dismissed his team’s deficit as “just two touchdowns,” Feletar recalled. Cordero finished with three touchdowns and 183 yards. Lakenheath’s offensive line cleared the path for the Lancers’ running attack, while the school’s junior varsity team and small contingent of traveling fans kept the energy level high.
A single touchdown can’t erase a 22-point deficit. But the Lancers’ stunning Saturday rally can all be traced back to one game-defining play.
“It was just a huge mental boost for everybody,” Feletar said. “All of a sudden we were back in it.”