HARRISBURG — Sometimes, special teams are special.
Slater High School got a special play out of its punting unit Monday, but Harrisburg High School still defeated Slater 50-26.
In the third quarter, the Slater Wildcats were stopped on their own 35-yard line and were forced to punt on fourth down. A freak special teams play by Slater punter Cole Skinner followed.
Skinner took the snap and put his foot to the pigskin. He expected the ball to sail down field. The ball had other ideas.
Skinner sent the punt straight up in the air, behind the line of scrimmage. The ball came down and bounced right in front of him. Realizing the ball was still live, he picked it up and ran 14 yards, eluding Harrisburg defenders for a first down.
A Harrisburg player watching from the sideline put his hands over his helmet and shook his head.
The fans were stunned. The stands were quiet.
The punter's heads-up play — or, rather, face-saving recovery — kept the Wildcats' offense on the field. Their drive would stall, though, and they had to punt again and they used a different punter.
Skinner's play was characterized by awareness, hustle and speed, but he said it was surely "an accident."
He said all he could do was "pick it up and run."
When asked what was going through his mind prior to the snap, Skinner said: "Don't mess up, don't mess up, don't mess up."
"And then I messed up," he said.
It's one of the rarest mess-ups ever seen by referee Dan Thoenen.
"I've seen it one other time," said Thoenen, who's been refereeing with the Jefferson City Football Association for 12 years. "It doesn't happen very often."
Thoenen said that he and fellow referees prepare for strange events such as this.
"We talk about it a lot in our pregame conferences but very seldom do you actually see it," Thoenen said.
Skinner, though, has seen this before. He had a similar experience in junior high when he picked up a teammate's backward punt and rushed for a touchdown.
Running is Skinner's strength as a football player. In addition to his unorthodox special teams first down, he ran back a kickoff for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
But Harrisburg did some running, too, and did it better than Slater. The Bulldogs' Blake Williams found the end zone four times, and he racked up 103 yards on nine carries. Quarterback Blake Berry also added two rushing touchdowns.
In all, the Bulldogs put up 238 yards of total offense, out-gaining the Wildcats by two yards. The parity in yards did not translate to the scoreboard, though, as Harrisburg's defense held Slater to three touchdowns.
The Bulldogs improved to 3-1 on the season.
Harrisburg's next game is scheduled for Sept. 30. The team will go on the road and play Fayette.