Stonewall Jackson High School was a new school with a new football coach, me. Our challenge was to play a varsity football schedule even though we didn’t have any seniors. Very few of the boys had ever played football. As we went into our tenth and last game of the season we had nine losses on our record.
I kept telling the team that winners never lost even though they were sometimes behind when time ran out. I wanted them to have a winning attitude and to play hard until the final seconds ticked off the clock.
This season had been a test of our winning attitude. We played hard in every game, but the others teams were just bigger, stronger and faster. They were what we’d be next season, Lord willing.
The last game of the season was against the George Washington High School Generals. This was the school most of the students had previously attended. If we could win this last game it would make our season a success.
The game started like all of our previous nine. The Generals scored the first two times they had the ball and we were behind 14 to 0 before we had even run a play. Then our defense started playing like wild men, and this got our offense going. Right before the half we scored and were back in the game.
At halftime, I told our team captains I wanted them to talk to their teammates since this was the last game and there wasn’t anything the coaches could say that they hadn’t said in previous games. The captains became cheerleaders, and the locker room became a pep rally with players encouraging one another and practically bouncing off the walls.
When we returned to the field, all the coaches felt we were about to witness something special. On our first possession we scored to make it a 14 to 14 game. The first time all season we had been tied in the second half.
The game then became a defensive battle until the Generals kicked a 25 yard field goal with one minute to play in the fourth quarter.
While the Generals were celebrating their “victory,” I told our team to look at the clock. One minute was left to play and I told them, “In a football game, a minute can be a lot of time if you play smart. This last minute is your chance to make history.”
As I looked into their eyes I saw a determination that they were not going to quit until the clock told them it was over.
We started the final minute of the season with the ball on the 20 yard line after the kick off went into the end zone. Our victory was 80 yards away. The Generals, who were still celebrating their “win,” were surprised on the first play when our quarterback took off running to his right. He was finally forced out of bounds just over mid-field, stopping the clock with 48 seconds remaining.
On the next play, he faked a pass and gave the ball to our fullback who went to the 32 yard line before he went out of bounds stopping the clock. The guys were playing smart and with a confidence I’d never seen. The Generals weren’t prepared for this and were in disarray.
We then had an incomplete pass and the fullback ran for another 5 yards. A pass moved the ball to the 20 yard line where, with 1 second to play, we called time out.
The logical play was to kick a field goal to tie the score. However, we didn’t have anyone who could kick a field goal that long. The last play of the game had to be a touchdown.
The clock went to zero as our quarterback’s pass into the end zone was wobbling like a wounded duck. It seemed to take forever to get there. Five defenders and three receivers were waiting for it to come down. Then Larry, who had only caught one pass all season, leaped above everyone, grabbed the ball and fell to the ground. The officials signaled a touchdown and suddenly the game was over. The Stonewall Jackson High School Rebels had won! For the first time, we were ahead when time ran out.
To this day, when I meet one of the original Rebel players we shake hands and they say, “Coach, a minute is a long time when you play smart.”
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