Everyone remembers their high school football days. How they went to the pep rallies, putting on their pads, and getting ready for that night’s game, hitting someone harder than you ever thought you would, and winning ball games and feeling like champions of the world. Many times these memories become tall tales or folklore of yesteryears. Yet there is an occasion where a memory becomes a nightmare. A nightmare that can hurt a person deep, deep in their soul and keep them up late at night if the memory passes through their mind...
It was a warm, humid Mississippi August, the kind of August where it does not get below 80 degrees until nine o’clock at night. It was a Friday, and not just any Friday in the state of Mississippi. This day was opening day for the Mississippi high school football season, a day as celebrated as the day a man’s first child is born. After summer workouts, two-a-days, and the jamborees that meant nothing, the players, coaches, cheerleaders, and the community got to see the true nature of their high school team. It was a real judgment day for every team across the state to see if they had the right stuff to make it to Jackson in December.
The Clinton Arrows, a program with great tradition in the state, were set to take on their longtime rivals the Brandon Bulldogs. This rivalry is not just a new rivalry or a forced rivalry because we just happen to be down the road from each other. The Clinton-Brandon rivalry is the oldest rivalry in the Jackson Metro-Area stretching all the way back to the late 1930s. Always a bruising and long lasting affair, this game was no different than any other.
Brandon entered having lost six straight to the hated Arrows, and felt with their new Head Coach Brad Peterson they could show Clinton the Dogs still had a bite. The Arrows had a deep playoff run on their mind and knew that beating Brandon would only further their point to everyone in Mississippi. Two teams with a point to prove on one night makes for a massive occasion.
This year the Arrows made the trip over to Brandon. The game was underway, and many knew that it would be long, close game but no one knew that only two players would hold the fate of this year’s rivalry on their legs. The Arrows squandered multiple chances inside the red zone, and Brandon had a difficult time even crossing the fifty-yard line. The Clinton fans and Brandon fans started to see overtime in their future. After four quarters of many mistakes and cramping players on both sides, the Arrows and the Bulldogs ended regulation 0-0.
Brandon took the first possession of overtime, and on the very first play, the Bulldogs turned the ball over on a shovel pass to the running back. Automatically, the Arrows sent out the field goal unit, it was only a 27 yard field goal, a chip shot for many. Yet the pressure got to the 17 year old young man, who missed it wide right. The kicker had to have a short memory which can be hard to do sometimes for a young person, but after three plays by Clinton’s offense in the second overtime, the kicker jogged back onto the field. This time, he faced a 25 yard field goal and nailed it. Hoping to never have to step on the field again, his hopes were dashed when Brandon’s kicker knocked in his game tying field goal, taking the game to the third overtime 3-3.
The triple overtime started again at the ten yard line. Brandon could not move the ball into the end zone, but once again the Bulldogs found the balls going through the uprights. It was 6-3 now, and the Arrows knew it was crunch time. Clinton’s offense ran the ball three times down to the Bulldogs’ three yard line. And for third time on the night, the away Arrows called upon their kicker. Only a 20 yard field goal, did he make it…
The kicker crumbled to his knees, grabbing his head and tears rolled down his eyes. He knew he had lost to a bitter foe, he knew he would be the butt of many jokes, and he felt that he had failed the community that allowed him to wear the arrowhead on his red helmet. He missed a field goal that he had made all pre-season, and now he has missed it, giving his team a loss.
The Arrows went on to finish the season 8-4, a somewhat disappointing mark for such great expectations to start the season. The kicker continued to play in every game after the Brandon loss, but just as a punter. He never attempted another field goal and maybe never wanted to take another chance at one again.
Is it missing the field goal that would keep this young man up at night? Sometimes we forget how much pressure can weigh on young athletes during these high school games. The players have put all their thoughts and god given ability to try and be successful.
We as fans sometimes miss our own field goals, when we fail to realize how much weight are on these young men shoulders. I understand winning championships are priority number one for everyone, but we should support our players even when they mess up. As long as each player on the field gives everything they have, we should understand that they are still learning the game and are still very young. These high school ball players are not NFL caliber just yet, but we should celebrate their willingness to represent their community and try their best to win on Friday night. These moments will be remembered by the players and especially the game altering memories that may be celebrated forty years down the road or nightmares that keep them up late at night, playing “the what if game?”.