More than just a game: the triumph and tragedy of high school football Part II

Posted: June 29, 2011 in Football
Tags: , ,

For any outside visitor looking in onto the area of Lakefield, Texas, it could have been seen as abandonment as the town itself was left lifeless on Friday nights. The reason for it: the Lakefield varsity football games at Towne Square Field. Signs that read “Closed: Gone to game”, countless vacated sparking spots, and with the only sound being the windchimes in front of the mom and pop stores meant one thing and one thing only, the Mustangs had a  game that night.

That enormous game was the home opener against their cross-town rival, the Riggington Cowboys, and it meant the world and more to the small town in central Texas to take home the W; it was a sense of pride, dignity, something they could hold over their “enemies”. To see such a divided area was almost a re-creation of the Civil War, once fellow brothers and sisters now turned mortal adversaries. The thought of the other side brought disgust and abomination.

The time was 6:00 P.M., one hour before kickoff, where Zach wrapped himself up in the team locker room, running through the playbook in his head, figuring out the best move to counter the stellar defense Riggington brought to the field. His hands stung of numbness like novacaine while drops of sweat rained down his back and he hadn’t even taken a snap. Could a 17-year-old such as himself be able to bring this team to victory where pressure breathed down his neck in the chase of glory?

Before the Mustangs took the field, while Zach was going over the PA draw with Jamar and Glenn-their seamlessly fool-proof plan-Zach felt a surge of pain in his throwing shoulder, the same kind of pain he had felt the other day at practice. While Glenn had asked with concern if Zach was able to play, the quarterback shrugged it off as if it was a simple growing pain, strapped on his helmet, and took to the field.

The September wind whipped around the field, dusk had finally rolled in, and the packed stadium filled with thousands of prideful fans were ready to endure the gruesome battle. Zach could hear both sides of the fans-the ones cheering him on and the ones that were going to make the next 40 minutes a long one. Lakefield won the coin toss and chose to receive the ball, a textbook decision by Coach Stamford, a part of his ideology on getting on the board first.

Taking the ball on the 32 yard line, Zach knew that to win this game he had to control the tempo, keeping the Cowboy defense at bay. With a quick halfback toss to Jamar for a six yard gain, the running game seemed to be a crutch for the Mustang offense. Run after run after run-Jamar sharing carries with senior fullback Taylor Johnson-it seemed that Lakefield had already figured out the flaw to the once-impenetrable defense, until they made a minor readjustment.

Throughout the entire drive, Riggington were banking on the fact that Zach, with his nervous tendencies, was going to force the ball and throw to double covered receivers, which is why they had started off in a cover 3 package with their defensive backs in zone coverage to keep an eye out for up-for-grab balls. Realizing that wasn’t going to happen, the Cowboys head coach-Tanner Williams-made the call in switching to a cover 2 and bringing the backs closer while emphasizing the blitz from their All-American defensive tackles, the Stoughton twins: Billy and Tim.

At first, it seemed as if their was no change at all as Lakefield took in the first six points with a slant route Glenn had run perfectly to create an option for Zach to throw t0. Quickly catching up was the Cowboy’s pistol offense, and within a blink of an eye, it was a tie game, barely enough time for the offense to catch their breath.

There was no time to run, Zach had thought to himself, if he had wanted to keep up with the swift Riggington offense. A play that had seemed fitting-where Glenn faked a curl and ran a post while Jamar acted as an option in the slot called “Tahoma 19”- was a play that could not have gone more wrong. On the tap of Zach’s right foot for the silent count, Glenn had been shoved by the right cornerback past the five yard mark- a clear penalty in any referee’s eye-the junior quarterback was still determined to make the throw to his to go-to-guy.

Unaware of his pocket came Billy Stoughton, beating the offensive line with his near-perfect bull rush. Diving into the quarterback’s right shoulder, the same spot where his agonizing pains had originated, time had seemed to slow down. The piercing sound of Zach’s shoulder snapping, the fall of the quarterback hitting the turf like lead, and the silence gasps of the crowd could have been copied and pasted from a horror movie. The town of Lakefield had just watched their season come to an end in just one simple yet devastating play.

Coaches and medics had rushed to the field to aid Zach, but it was evident he was not coming back to the game of football for a while, if ever. Carted off the field and binded by straps, the tears in Zach’s eyes had clogged his vision of the worried and plundered crowd. A sense of disappointment flooded his emotions as he helplessly laid in the back of the ambulance.

With their backup quarterback being a freshman, Coach Stamford made the call of moving Jamar to quarterback and having him run draw plays to wide down the rest of the game which resulted in a 24-14 loss. The bigger loss for the town of Lakefield was Zach Tempsen, their holy grail to a state championship, the athlete that was going to represent Lakefield for years to come, had been damaged in front of their eyes. Their was no immediate answer, which gave an insecure feeling to the townspeople, a desolate emotion none of them had ever felt before.

For more sports information, opinion, and shameless banter, follow me on Twitter: @sportsbyjersey


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