Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Friday Night Lights

I've been to a lot of high school football games in my day. When I went to Shaw I went to nearly every home game for four years. When I wasn't at a Shaw game, I was at a Smithstation game watching my cousin. Since graduation I've been back for a few homecoming games and I've spent a lot of time down in the end zone with GB while he was paid to keep the peace. I even went to a JV game or two with Kevan when Northside first started playing.

Nothing...none of it...prepared me for tonight. Kirin made varsity cheerleader her first time out as a freshman. We've been really excited about it for a few months but up til now it's just been lots of practice and theory. We didn't know how things were really going to be.

What we did know is that Shaw has one of the best programs in the state. Two years ago they were state champs. Last year the only team we lost to in the regular season was Carver...the eventual state champs. We know that Shaw has a good, strong squad. We also know that Carver lost last week to Central in Phenix City....and that we had to play Central for our season opener.

Kirin had dinner with the squad at Ruby Tuesday and we picked her up in time to take her to the game. Daren, Kirin, the boys, and I got to the stadium at 6:45 for an 8:00 kickoff. It was hot and sunny and I just KNEW it was going to be a bad time. At first there was grumbling about it being hot and us having to wait so long for the game to start.

Then the sun went down. The stands filled with loyal fans, proud parents, and teenagers who just wanted to be seen. The band, what there was of them, marched in loudly playing cadence on the drums. The flag girls were in perfect formation and properly regimented. Central's band took the field to play the National Anthem and we stood to honor the flag...most of us anyway.

The kickoff was a little shaky and Shaw took possession with pretty good field position. It only took a couple of plays though and a Raider broke loose and ran in for our first touchdown of the night. The band started the fight song, the cheerleaders danced, and the parents yelled. There was a penalty on the extra point and on the second attempt they failed to get it through the uprights.

Shaw 6 -- Central 0

It didn't take long for Central to even the score. They unsucessfully attempted a two point conversion and the score was tied at 6 all.

Shaw 6 -- Central 6

Shaw couldn't be kept down. We ran the ball back in for another touchdown and this time went for two to make up for losing the extra point before. Shaw intercepted the ball and scored again. It went on like this until half time when Shaw was up by a couple of TDs.

Shaw 26 -- Central 14

The third quarter was fairly slow. But with five minutes left in the fourth quarter, the game took off like a lighting bolt. Central scored again to bring them within 5 points.

Shaw 32 -- Central 27

Central kicked off to Shaw with a little over 2 minutes on the clock. We knew we had to score or run the clock out. The kickoff went deep into the end zone so we took possession at our 20 yard line. We weren't making any forward progress and on the 3rd down, the quarterback dropped back to pass and was sacked for a loss of several yards.

We had no choice but to punt. Our only hope was to keep them out of the end zone until the clock ran out. Less than two minutes to go. We held them on the first couple of plays but they kept charging. The clock was running down and they kept getting first downs.

With about 90 seconds on the clock they ran the ball in for a touchdown. Central's crowd went wild. Shaw's fans saw the flag though. We yelled and hollered as the referree marked off the 15 yard penalty. They had to go 20 yards in a minute and a half to beat us.

Shaw's crowd was louder than I can ever remember hearing them. The cheerleaders were doing their very best. Even the football players on the sidelines were encouraging the crowd to get on their feet.

First play we held them. Second play we held them again. Third play they got through and made it to the 11 yard line and a first down. First down they made it 2 yards to the nine. Second down we held them back. Third down they made it a little closer.

Fourth down. 45 seconds on the clock. They were on the 1 yard line. We did our best but they made it over the line by inches. Central scored. Shaw was in shock but managed to deny Central the two point conversion.

Shaw 32 -- Central 33

We now had 39 seconds in which to move the ball down the field for at least a field goal to defeat our first team of the season. The team who...just last week...beat our rivals 27 - 14 in an unofficial preseason game. The crowd was so full of hope and enthusiasm that even Daren was on his feet and couldn't sit down.

First attempt at a pass was complete for a 10 yard gain and a first down, but the player failed to get the ball out of bounds so the clock was still running. Next was a run but only for a few yards. The next pass was incomplete but the clock stopped with 10 seconds to go.

The play started, our quarterback dropped back for a bomb and sent it sailing to his receiver who appeared to be fairly open. A player from Central hit him from the right so hard that he lost his helmet and missed the catch. The clock ran out. We lost the game.

Final Score

Shaw 32 -- Central 33

It was, without a doubt, the best night of high school football that I have ever watched. It was even better than the night Dan Kosobucki kicked the field goal in over time that put Hardaway on top of Shaw and made Danny Little cry.

I wasn't prepared for the pride I would feel while watching my daughter cheer...and Michael Ryan run...and the band play the fight song. I was a little overwhelmed by the emotion that I felt every time they scored a touchdown. I was unprepared for the love I felt for Kevan and Tiel for their coming to watch Kirin and the way that Kevan got along with the boys...and even Daren...to watch the game. I was REALLY unprepared for the joy I felt when Daren was explaining the game to James, who may still decide to play next year.

Tomorrow UGA plays Ga Southern. It'll be bigger boys, with more polish, and more on the line. It'll mean hearing the Redcoat band play Glory every time GA gets across the line. We'll get to see the new UGA for the first time.

But it won't be like tonight. Tonight was about heart. Tonight I was proud, once again, to be a Raider.

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