The time on the game clock showed a mere eight seconds left. West Slope High had been controlling the tempo of the game for the better part of the evening, but our boys from East Ridge fought back fiercely and managed to narrow the gap to a manageable three points. It was now what everybody on our side of the cold aluminum bleachers hoped for, a final push down the rain soaked field culminating into a "W" for us.
During the previous down, Cody Grant, our six-two, all American quarterback dropped back three steps for a pass play into the well protected pocket his linemen created . Unfortunately, when he went to plant his foot for a throw, he slipped in the mud and went down. It was no surprise though, because where there used to be lush green turf before the torrential rains of the evening and the constant trampling by all the boys in cleats was now nothing more than a giant mud hole. Somehow, miraculously it seemed, Cody regained his footing and squirmed to the left, narrowly missing being crushed by West Slope's Goliath of a defensive tackle. Scrambling, Cody found a receiver down field and let go of the perfect spiral. Our wide receiver David Bradly had managed to stay one step ahead of the defender and with outstretched arms grabbed the ball as it fell perfectly into his grasp. As he hit the ground, he slid (more like hydroplaned) another six yards before being touched by West Slope's safety and ruled down.
Using our last time out, Coach Hacket stopped the clock with only eight ticks left. The ball was on the twelve yard line, and on a good night, well within field goal range. He knew he had a tough choice to make and the remaining time would only allow for one play. A field goal would tie the game and send it into overtime, but the conditions of the field made what would have normally been a easy shot, into a probable one at best. A touchdown would signal a win and would also garner him a Gatorade bath from the boys on the sidelines. On the flip side, he knew if they went for it and were unsuccessful, their season would abruptly come to an end.
With the game on the line and the advancement to the state championships at stake, Coach Hacket was prepared to take his chances with the ball on the ground. He called a reverse, banking on the defense looking for another pass play. As the team stood huddled in a large circle on the sideline, Coach gave them the play and called out, "East Ridge on three. One, Two, Three...", and all the players shouted in unison, "EAST RIDGE!"
Eleven mud soaked boys walked to the line with cheers from the stands encouraging them on. The referee blew his whistle signaling the ball ready for play. Cody started his cadence yelling out, "Blue forty-two. Blue forty-two. Hut, hut, hike..." and the center snapped the ball into his waiting hands. The defense sent most of their guys into coverage expecting a pass, but didn't completely sell out, sending a tackle off the strong side toward Cody. It was exactly what Coach had hoped for. Cody dropped back a few steps and handed the ball off to the running back Derrick Combs who reversed direction and took it up the weak side toward the end zone. As he raced across the five yard line, the defense adjusted and was barring down on him. Coming up on the end zone he was met by a wall of red jerseys with only one intent; stopping him from crossing the line.
With the clock at zero and a pile of players in both red and white uniforms mixed with brownish mud and green grass stains, the referee blew his whistle. The game was officially over and somewhere at the bottom of the pile was the football. The only question was, did Derrick manage to cross into the end zone or not? With everyone in the stands on our feet we waited for the call as the refs pulled bodies off the pile one by one.
After a few seconds, which seemed more like hours as we watched, the two line judges looked at each other, nodded their heads in agreement and simultaneously threw both their arms straight up into the air signaling "TOUCHDOWN!"