They’ve had countless connections throughout their six years together, but the duo’s latest performance on Friday night at county rival Sand Rock will be one of their most memorable.
Mintz completed 13 of 28 passes for 304 yards and five touchdowns. Hardy was on the receiving end of three scores – including the 7-yard game-winning score with 5:18 to go in the game – that lifted the Tigers to a thrilling 34-28 victory.
The win secured only the sixth undefeated regular season for the Tigers (9-0) since 1930 and their first since 2005.
“I’m honored to be a part of this team, just to know we’ll go down in history as one of only six undefeated teams,” said Mintz, who dedicated the game to his brother Jake after he went out of the game with an injury. “It’s really special.”
Hardy gave props to his quarterback for calling his number during one of the game’s most clutch situations.
“By the way they were guarding me, I knew I was going to be wide open,” Hardy said. “He played on the inside, and the route was to go to the outside. He (Mintz) knows where I’m going to be, and I know where he’s going to throw the ball. It just comes easy to us really.”
Not only did Hardy account for the game-winning score, he also came back with one of the biggest plays turned in by the Tiger defense.
Sand Rock (5-5) had driven the ball inside the Tiger 10-yard line with just under a minute to go in the game, but Hardy’s 5-yard sack of junior quarterback Dylan Mackey forced the Wildcats into a fourth-and-15.
On the next play, Mackey – who completed 9 of 22 pass attempts for 131 yards and two touchdowns – tossed a floater up to junior receiver Isaac Arnold in the back of the end zone, but the pass sailed just out of his reach with 41.8 seconds left.
Two Mintz kneel downs secured the win.
“Every time we play Sand Rock, it’s real intense,” Hardy said. “We know it’s a big game. We know it’s going to be close. We’ve just got to keep our composure and play our game.”
Sand Rock coach Russell Jacoway said he knew entering the game the Wildcats would have a tough time defending against Hardy, and they did. Two of Hardy’s three touchdown grabs went for 70 and 47 yards. He also added a 22-yard catch in the first half.
“There’s an old saying that big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games,” Jacoway said. “He made some great plays, and the Mintz kid threw the ball on the money.
“I don’t know what you do with him (Hardy). If you double him up, then you’re a man short and they’re going to hurt you running the football.”
Sand Rock jumped on the scoreboard first with Chandler Mackey’s 5-yard touchdown run with 4:31 to go in the first quarter. Ethan Jimmerson added the extra point for a 7-0 Wildcat lead.
Mintz and Hardy answered with 11:05 to go in the second quarter on a 70-yard scoring strike. Curtis Abernathy’s point after tied the game at 7.
Dylan Mackey put the Wildcats back out in front 14-7 with his 31-yard connection to Jimmerson with 6:33 left in the half, but the lead was short-lived.
Mintz found Devante Dixon on a 34-yard scoring pass to cap a 7-play, 69-yard drive. Abernathy’s extra point tied the game at 14.
The Wildcats’ Chase Garrett picked off a Mintz pass with just under three minutes remaining in the half. Garrett returned the ball down to the Tiger 3, setting up a Skylar Williams touchdown run one play later. The point after put Sand Rock back out in front 21-14.
Mintz and Hardy hooked up for their second score of the game with just 1:40 left on the clock, tying the game at 21 heading into the locker room.
Another Tiger turnover with 3:50 left in the third led to another Wildcat touchdown. Chandler Mackey recovered a D’Shawn Fife fumble at the Cedar Bluff 35. Three plays later, Dylan Mackey found Stethan Chandler for the touchdown to give the Wildcats the advantage again at 28-21.
Mintz and Dixon connected on their second touchdown of the night on the Tigers’ ensuing drive. This one went for nine yards, and it tied the game for the fourth time at 28-all with just under a minute left in the third quarter.
Tiger senior defender Rickey Pendley picked off Dylan Mackey with 8:16 left in the game to set up what turned out to be the game-winning drive.
Both Jacoway and Cedar Bluff coach Jonathan McWhorter were proud of the resiliency their teams showed Friday.
“I told our kids after the ball game effort-wise I’m as proud of them tonight as I have been of any team in my 30 years here,” Jacoway said. “You look around and we’re out-manned here, out-manned there. They just played on guts and want-to. What else can you ask for?”
Added McWhorter: “We faced some adversity tonight. This was a game we’ve not been in all year, where we’ve had to fight, scratch and claw literally every play until the last play. We had to fight through some things – some turnovers, some penalties – but we found a way to win.”
Cedar Bluff hosts Phillips of Bear Creek (5-5) to open the Class 1A state playoffs on Friday. Sand Rock travels to top-ranked Tanner (9-0) to open the Class 2A postseason for the second straight season.