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updated: 10/7/2011 11:50 PM

Burlington Central picks off Harvard

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By Marty Maciaszek

HARVARD -- As the ball hung in the air so did Burlington Central's hopes of upsetting state-ranked and undefeated Harvard.

And right at the spot where he needed to be was Rockets' senior safety Johnny Major as Harvard quarterback Timmy Linhart targeted dangerous Collin Nolen for a potential game-tying 15-yard touchdown Friday night.

Major and Nolen went up and Major came down with his fourth interception of the season in the back of the end zone. Burlington Central then ran out the final 1:59 and pulled out a 14-7 Big Northern East football victory at Dan Horne Field.

"It's like coach (Rich Crabel) tells us, you have to believe you can stay with anyone you play," Major said of knocking off the sixth-ranked team in Class 4A by the Associated Press. "We prepare pretty hard and we're well-coached."

Which was evident as Burlington Central (5-2, 2-1) became playoff eligible and stayed in the hunt for a BNC East title if Harvard (6-1, 2-1) can beat Richmond-Burton (6-1, 3-0) next week.

A bizarre 59-yard touchdown return of a squib kick by junior Alex Johnson broke a 7-7 tie 6:56 before halftime. The defense led by senior linebacker Chandler Crary (3 tackles for losses, two stops for no gain) made it hold up by turning back three second-half trips into Rockets' territory and two inside their 15 in the final 5 minutes.

"You always have to be ready to be under pressure," Crary said. "That's what makes great players."

Especially at the end against one of the league's best receivers in Nolen. His 8 catches for 76 yards included a controversial 27-yard second-quarter score where officials ruled he had possession long enough before he juggled and dropped the ball.

Two plays after a pass interference penalty put the ball at the Rockets' 15, Nolen ran an out-and-up against Joe Breeden (10 tackles) but Major made the right decision.

"They put me in the right spot and luckily I made a play," Major said.

"We knew they would eventually go to the out-and-up," Crabel said. "Johnny sat on top of the ball like he's supposed to and he went up against a good kid who has caught a lot of yards this year."

The Rockets scored first as a 16-yard touchdown run by Joel Bouagnon (28 carries, 132 yards) capped a 14-play, 73-yard drive where it converted a pair of fourth-and-1s.

And the Rockets had the last laugh as the anger over Nolen's tying touchdown quickly turned to jubilation when the 5-foot-5, 150-pound Johnson took the squib kick from Nolen and outraced him to the end zone.

"I've always been ready to pick up a shanked ball like that in practice but I never thought it would come to me in a game," Johnson said. "Once I picked it up I just ran. I didn't think I would make it.

"I heard the sideline telling me to drop on it and friends telling me to pick it up and run with it. I wanted to use my speed and players make plays."

Junior Andrew Yarwood also made a big one when he stuffed Brad Lovell a yard short on fourth-and-2 from the Rockets' 13 with 5:08 lefts.

"We made some mistakes and obviously you saw that," Johnson said. "But if we fix those mistakes we can definitely beat teams that are even better than Harvard."

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