Saturday, November 26, 2011

SC 2A Northern Championship Game

Driving to the game through the dark countryside, the only glow in the distance are the light stancions of the field. Soon we join a line of headlights queing into the parking lot. It’s a scene reminiscent of the final scene of Field of Dreams.

7:24 pm: After warmups, the Central of Pageland Eagles retreat to the fieldhouse. After an opening prayer, the twenty-one member marching band plays the national anthem. Students meander out onto the field to form a tunnel for the team to run through. Anna and Matthew join Jordan, Catherine, and Victoria out on the field.

The loudspeaker promises "the most exciting entrance in high school football." Single-file, the players methodically touch the eagle statue, then slowly WALK down the hill, then stop to assemble behind the goalpost. Once together, they finally charge out onto the field.

Ben, suffering from back spasms, will get the most playing time all year. Perhaps this is why I see no practice punts in warmups. He’s on his grandfather’s painkillers.

Sponsors signs attached to the chain-link fence surrounding the field include Kellys Custom Embroidery, Rusty's Tucker Lumber, and Acts 2:38. Five or six signs commemorate desceased players and coaches.

7:38 pm: Central takes the opening kickoff and drives down the field for a touchdown.

7:43 pm: Columbia threatens with a long drive of thier own, but finally turn it over on downs.

7:44 pm: Central goes 3 and out. Ben’s first punt, his first boot in at least 30 minutes. The snap is high, throwing off Ben’s timing, and the punt only goes 25 yards. But Central quickly gets the ball back, on an interception.

7:50 pm: Ben enters the game on offense and on his first play catches a 12-15 yard pass on the right hashmark, right at the first down marker.

7:53 pm: Another high snap, but Ben’s second punt is better: 35 yards.

8:03 pm: Colo drives down to the 9 yard line, but the Eagles hold on fourth down.

8:08 pm: Colo holds, and Ben punts. It gets a Central bounce, and goes for 40 yards.

8:13 pm: Colo punts 45 yards into the end zone, for a touchback. Central runs right and fumbles. The Capitals scoop it up and run it in to tie the game at seven.

8:20 pm: After an incompletion, Central runs the same pass play again. This time it goes for a 20 yard TD. Players celebrate as they come off the field. Ben spots two teammates and signals them to join him in the air for a triple bump high five. The TD caps a 91 yard drive near the end of the first half. Eagles lead 14-7.

8:24 pm: I’m used to the more violent collisions of college and pro football games. There’s substantially less in Class 2 high school ball. On kickoffs opponents dance and push: few are sacrificing their bodies. Lots of arm tackling. Central's number 55 has a motor that runs hard. He goes both ways, and several times ALMOST chases down the Capitals athletic QB.

8:47 pm: Colo scores on a four play TD drive to tie the game at 14 all.

8:51 pm: Ben punts 39 yards, to the 31 yard line. This will be Ben’s best game punting, but right now Columbia has the momentum.

8:55 pm: Colombia cashes in with a 69 yard TD drive, scoring on a pass in the far right corner of the end zone. But the short kicker misses the PAT. Colo leads 20-14.

9:05 pm: Central answers with a 58 yard drive of thier own, finding paydirt on a 21-yard TD pass to a wide open receiver who had run a flag pattern. Ben had lined up on the same side of the field, and drew the coverage on a shorter route. With the score tied 20-20, Colo is called offsides on the critical PAT. The Eagles’ kicker had made the kick after the whistle, then makes it again after Central declines the penalty. Good guys lead: 21-20.

9:10 pm: Colo punts 44 yards. The third quarter ends with Central leading 21-20.

9:16 pm. Ben trots in with the play. Just as he arrives at the huddle he glances down. After relaying the play call, he steps back, bends down, and picks up his mouthpiece, that he had dropped. Later Central is flagged for delay of game penalty. Big?

9:20: Yes. Central turns it over on downs, with 8:50 remaining. Ben is outfitted with just about every accoutrement: helmet visor, Under Armor undershirt, sweatbands, gloves, a rarely used Under Armor hand warmer (worn backwards), and white tights.

9:27 pm: Central had the QB sacked, but gets called for a facemask penalty. A wide open Colombia receiver drops a bomb, thrown right into his hands. Colo punts 34 yards, to the 24 yard line.

Central reels off a big screen pass on first down. Another delay of game penalty stalls the drive. Ben punts 32 yards, down to the ten yard line.

As the clock runs down, Colombia drives down the field. Central is offsides, but sacks the QB on third and five. Time out with 40 seconds left. Fourth down: another sack, to clinch the game.

After the game, parents join the players on the field.

The 21-20 finish is a kicker's dream, or nightmare. The State newspaper features the game in its Saturday edition, playing off the PAT angle. The article quotes both head coaches on the subject, but Central's coach doesn't even mention his own kicker by least as far as the article goes. This may have been the reporter's error: the scoring recap incorrectly named Ben as the PAT kicker.

This wasn't the first time something like this ever happened: The Macon Telegraph often credited my holder Randy Griffin as the PAT kicker, instead of me.

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