From the desk of the Editor:
Thrills, Chills, and Cedar Ridge Football
I have a friend who attends Cedar Ridge High School and plays football. Monday night, I made it to a game. I sat with his Dad, also my friend. Watching high school football is not something I do very often. The last game I attended was on behalf of another young friend, at East Chapel Hill High, almost three years ago.
Monday was chilly. Because high school football is so far out of my regular rotation, I forgot that it would be cash at the door. I had to do a little bit of queue barging, promising the gate that I would hit my buddy up for six bucks and come back.
Once I got past the Orange County Sherriff and the dissonant combo of his goofy sense of humor and Orwellian metal detector, I found my friend about eight or ten rows in front of the pressbox. As soon as I sat my thin ass down on those hard, icy cold, metal bleachers, it was game on, I totally forgot about returning to the gate to pay my way.
There were probably 150 folks in attendance. The game had been rescheduled to a Monday night due to the hard rain we were getting early Friday evening. It was Senior Night and they didn’t want the parents to have to come out onto a soggy field to support their sons. (1)
The halftime hot chocolate, my buddy, the Dad, bought me was my contribution to Cedar Ridge’s football coffers. Monday’s atmosphere: cheerleaders in long pants and warm-up jackets, assorted high school students and parents, huddled in blankets, hats, gloves. The veterans had bleacher cushions and mini-chairs.
As my toes and fingertips got colder, the action on the field got hotter. Cedar Ridge’s quarterback is a pipsqueak, who is also the point guard on the varsity basketball team. The Red Wolves football squad has been in many close games this season, their first in the larger 3A division, but only won one.
Tonight they trailed Northern Vance by a single point going into the second half. Northern Vance ran the ball down their throats on the first drive, getting a touchdown and a two point conversion. Eight points down, Ridge needed a touchdown and a two-pointer to tie. They scored early in the fourth quarter, but missed the two pointer.
Still down by two, another drive got inside the Northern Vance ten yard line, as the clock ticked under eight minutes to go. But on 4th down the Tiny Tim playing quarterback got creamed on an option pass. Two huge defensive lineman piling on top of him as the crowd hushed.
While he lay prone on the field, his mother revealed in a stage whisper to the fans seated around her, “I have been through three (football playing kids), and have had it made clear, under no circumstances is Mom supposed to go out on the field. Dad, maybe. Mom, never.”
As it was, the trainer and a couple of teammates helped the lad to his shaky feet and led him in the direction of the sideline, as Northern Vance took over the ball, hoping to make a clock killing final drive. But the Red Wolves defense, which had been getting battered all night, they would yield a total of 34 points, rallied to force a three and out.
Wobbly or not, the coach sent Tiny Tim back out to quarterback. And there is a reason the kid is the starting varsity quarterback and basketball point guard as a sophomore. Young man has cojones and skills. Quick slants and inside dives, a quarterback sweep, and suddenly they were inside the Northern Vance ten yard line again, as the clock rolled under three minutes.
A beautiful play-action passes resulted in a touchdown, as the stands exploded with as much noise as 150 people equipped with nothing more than their throats and cowbells can make. Pure joy and relief mingled, a second win might be looming! And on Senior night!
But the game was not over.
If you don’t follow high school football, kickoffs are a crapshoot. Nobody can kick it deep, few teams can cover the kick well. Cedar Ridge is no exception and Northern Vance returned this kick to the fifty-yard line with a just over two minutes to go and all three of their timeouts.
Their powerful running game was not finished yet. A couple bruising off tackle plunges, a successful sweep, where the runner got a first down and out-of-bounds, suddenly Northern Vance was on the Cedar Ridge fifteen yard line with a minute and ten seconds left on the clock, and the defense on its heels.
First down, the right end bursts through the line and drags the runner down for a loss. Second down a gain of maybe three or four yards. Third down a great play by the Cedar Ridge cornerback to discard a block, and as the last line of defense between the runner and end zone, victory and defeat, make a game saving open field tackle.
A final timeout. One play to go. Both teams know it. The crowd knows it.
I know it.
Suddenly in the emotion and energy surging and coursing through my body, I know in my very bones why high school football is an American trope.
Everything is on the line in this one moment. Four years of practices, Summer two-a-days, sweating, in the weight room…for the parents, all the rides to all those games, all the hours sitting in the stands.
The students’ voices rise to a crescendo. Northern Vance has one play, reach the end zone and it’s a win, Cedar Ridge goes down to defeat, the defense fails the team and the heroic young quarterback. The offensive players on the sideline appear to be somewhere between a shriek and a prayer.
For the seniors, none of whom is making a Division 1 college team, this is almost certainly the last home game of competitive football they will ever play. And they feel it. The Vance kids do too. Game on the line.
There is a reason everybody from Al Bundy to Ronald Reagan talks about the lessons and the stories; glorious and tragic, of their high school football team.
Down, set, hike. Again the right end collapses the left tackle. Quarterback scrambles, a collision, the ball pops loose, and Cedar Ridge falls on it. The crowd reaches paroxysm levels of joyous whoops and shouts. The offense wants to storm the field as their coach physically holds them back, fearing the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
A kneel down and it is over. Cedar Ridge wins. The seniors go home with a memory.
My friend, an offensive lineman, who will be putting more time into engineering than football next year at a place like MIT or NC State, could not have been happier outside the locker room forty minutes later.
Don’t underrate sports, they are a powerful collective ritual…
“From the Editor’s Desk”
is written by our Editor: Aaron Mandel
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