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Thursday, September 24, 2009

EauClair North

TO BE EDITED1st editing complete2nd editing completeThis should be a long story about my experience with High school football.I suppose I should start with a finished entry but I think I will just start with an outline and expand on it later.My experience.What I learned.How it helped me.How I paid for it.It was the 9th game of the season and we were 8 and 1 ranked 5th in the state and we needed to win the last game for a chance at the 4 team state playoff. We were in the top division for high schools in Wisconsin. Class A. 13th largest school by population, 2100 students in 10th, 11th, and 12 grades.I was the starting right defensive end and had 63 tackles to my name at the start of the game. We were playing a team that had a 4 and 4 record so the game from outward appearances looked like we would win. The coach warned us that 2 weeks ago 4 of Eau Claire Norths key players had returned to playing status from injuries and they had just won against 3rd ranked Jainesville . Coach told us that this may not be as easy as it looked on paper.As was my habit during the week before the game I studied my opponents carefully. Noting height and weights and statistics of each and every starter and any platooned player that both our offense and defense might face, consciously evaluating one on one match ups. From the details of the other team and watching film of their last weeks victory I decided that coach was right. These guys who had never had a winning season before; were the end of this one, on top of the world, full of the hope that they could not be called total losers any more and hungry to eat another top ranked team in the state. I could sense it, almost feel it. They had something to prove to themselves and everyone else and they were determined to prove it.The Wednesday before the game I was again studying the intel on the Huskies;Johnnie (Randy Johnson) comes over and stands next to me; also looking at the board says after a couple of minutes, "we are going to beat them". I said yes but it is not going to be that easy. Not like the news was making it out to be.Thursday afternoon we left for Eau Claire for an overnight stay so we would be fresh for the next days game . Friday afternoon we headed over to their school and checked in to the locker room. We had a couple of hours to kill before we had to get dressed up so we wandered around their gym area a little. What I saw was a weight lifting area that wasn't as good as ours, but had what looked like a lot of new equipment. I was impressed, with a twinge of oops, these guys must be more serious than they used to be.We were a big team with lots of strength and a lot of speed for a bunch of white boys. The fastest. No other team in the state had the combination of speed and strength that we had. We were smart. We were well coached and drilled constantly in fundamentals and techniques of the game. In short we were good,the hardest hitting, with good morale and confidence in each other. Our coach was a master strategist and tactician and knew how to pay attention to details.At the end of the first half the score was 0-0 and it was turning out to be as tuff as I suspected. Although we were knocking the stars out of them they weren't caving in mentally. They were staying in it and had out gained us offensively. They were executing their plays well, blocking well, and sticking to their responsibilities. Each one doing to our defense what they should do, hindering our players from getting to the ball until their key backs could get into the open field and use their outstanding ability to make tacklers miss and we were great tacklers. The only thing that did save us from being scored on was our outstanding team speed, pursuit and team tackling. We never quit until the whistle blew. Because of this we always had two or three guys around the ball carrier. Never the less they were popping loose for five and ten yard gains consistently. Something 8 previous teams failed to do.We weren't frantic. We remained calm, determined, resolute. We weren't quitters. We did not give up. They were not going to beat us. But neither team was letting up. We couldn't . There was too much at stake for each of us.The second half started out like the first battling back and fourth with the game still deadlocked at 0-0. We finally broke the ice with 2 or 3 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. Coach pulled a seldom used play out of the book and had Nielson throw a short out to our tight end Larry Banks who then rambled 63 yards through several tackles to the three yard line, where we gnarled it in one yard at a time. Three plays for 6 with Todd Florey smashing in from the 1/2 yd line. The PAT was blocked but we were up 6 to nuthin. The Huskies were demoralized temporarily and we were the champs at going for the kill. Now was the time to put this incredibly tenacious and honorable opponent down.The ensuing kick off went well in that direction when their receiver bobbled the ball into the end zone barely escaping back out to the 3 yard line. This is where it went terribly wrong. As they came to the line of scrimmage I felt relieved mildly because there was no tight end over me. The boy was a tough blocker even though I was defeating his blocks, he just wasn't making it easy. It didn't dawn on me that their coach was about to pull his rabbit out of his hat.........The ball was snapped, and I watched as an apparent TO QB boot headed away from me to my left. Suddenly vwoooo, the guy broke past the line of scrimmage with a ton of blockers in front of him, and like that......there were five of us from the back side rocketing after Billy Sand catching him at the 45 yard line. We took it like men, we were not shaken and lined up as if they hadn't just broke the longest run against us that year. Same thing. No TE and no split.but I had not ascribed any significance to the missing players. The ball was snapped and the play again broke to the left. I stayed home until the ball crossed the line of scrimmage like I always did guarding against possible reverses, but this time I saw the breakaway developing. A thought so strong I could have sworn I said it out loud "they got through" I felt a the rip of lightening.......the fabric of time.....everything went quiet.......still.......peacefull.......calm.......time slowed down....the world around in slow motion. It's as if I was no longer treading earth. Next to me John Francouer was being driven backwards by the o-guard. I lept effortlessly over John like a gazelle, grace in motion on an intercept course with Tim Larson at my right. Tim was a 4.5, 40 yd dash, strong side DB; fast, and recognized as the hardest hitter on the team, but I was out striding him and pulling ahead. Tim, because of his inside position got to him first and I let him have the tackle dragging Billy down inside our 30.......time returned to normal. Two plays and better than 70 yards. In 1976 No-other team had even come close to that against our D, NO-ONE. I remember asking Dave Minor the left DE what was going on over there? Both Dave and Warren Williams our left DT said that they had two and three guys each on them. We freaked. They were running that unbalanced O-line we had practiced against and yet we spaced it. We had added a defensive shift just for the situation. I felt bad, I should have seen it but it wasn't just my fault, there were 10 other guys out there, three coaches on the sidelines and the coaches in the press box. We had been lulled....shenanged, and got burned for 70 yards.We made the defensive adjustment but the best we got was making them pay for the next 20+ yards. Two first downs and 8 plays later they scored. We were able to return the favor and block their PAT but the game was now 6-6.I was bone tired. The Huskies ran the wishbone, an offensive set that tries to rag the defense from sideline to sideline. They were executing it perfectly. I had about 10 tackles by this time and some of them were coming from the backside and down field. I had done a tremendous amount of running. In between plays I was shaking from the exertion. From somewhere inside of my heart a still small voice kept saying "keep going". I can only imagine that the rest of the guys felt the same way.I was in pain. I had heard something pop in my head and I had a headache. I had taken a just right shot to the helmet and my neck was sore. I had a giant bruise on my left thigh and my left knee was now in pain from the same hit. My left shoulder was sore from a particularly brutal that I could not believe I had made. In fact when I hit the guy I thought he had slipped by me. This one I am going to describe because it would make any ones highlight reel any where at anytime. The play started with them 1st and ten on their 30 yard line heading north. Ball was on the my left hash mark so the wide side of the field was now my AO and they loved to run to the wide side, their goal was to do everything they could to stretch us out and they were doing it well. The next play they decided to run was a triple option designed Q-B boot with the half backs and a pulling guard out front. Their problem was they ran 10-12 yards deep behind the line of scrimmage and I had the speed to get to their point of attack before they did, and I did but took a blast from the running back that knocked my legs straight back and out from under me blowing me two yards off the line of scrimmage and flat on my face. I never took my eyes off of Billy Sand the Q-Back. He cut perfectly inside the block, but my world class reflexes snapped my legs up under me like a bull frog and I launched with both legs and all my might with perfect aim and timing hit him in the left thigh. My arms snapped around to tackle but they just swished through empty air. As I was going back down on my face I remember saying:"not again", out loud , and then a moment after I hit the ground I also said; out loud; '"man that hurt", then the whistle blew, to which I also said; "good somebody else got him, thinking that at least I had slowed him or turned him into some one else. I laid there for a moment in agony as did the guy who had blocked me. I dragged myself up and looked over at the QB who was still on the ground(also slow to get up) all by himself and I asked Jimmy Larson on the way back to the huddle who "tackled him"? He said "you did". Non-plussed I said"yeah but he got five more yards".The next Monday we watched the last film of the last game of the year and when we got to that play the coach reran it couple of times. When I hit him it propelled him up in the air about 8 or 10 feet with his legs spread but perpendicular to his body. His body parallel to the ground and his head towards his teams sideline or west. He spun two complete rotations before he almost landed on his feet 5 yards down field then collapsed. He was slow getting up. I think that play just about killed the half, me, and the QB. 'Man that hurt'. 'Man that hurt'.But by God I kept going. I prayed constantly that God would not let me get proud or profane. I was confident in God. I believed. I said so out loud to Kelleher and Carry as I headed back onto the field from a flying missed tackle. Though I didn't get the tackle it caused the runner to stop cold in order to dodge me and Dave Minor coming hard from the guys rear creamed him. Jim Kelleher says "way to go Erks". I said"we are going to beat these guys".We played on that , I know we weren't playing for overtime and neither were they. Both teams were out to win.We didn't make it, the two teams continued the vicious fight till the final gun sounded and it was into overtime.Overtime in Wisconsin in those days was 4 downs from the ten yard line each, until one scored more than the other. If it remained a tie then the series of downs were repeated 3 times until one came out ahead. If none came out ahead then the game was declared a tie.We got a 20 minute break before the start of OT. I forget who won the toss but I know that we started on offense first. Our first play from the line of scrimmage was like the trouble we had been having this gain. Again coach pulls another play we seldom used. A ten yard pass over the middle to Todd Florey. Nielson threw it high but Todd had an outstanding vertical leap. He snatched the ball and scored. Pand-o-monium for us. Coach Hoff did not want to risk a field goal and also wanted to put the pressure on the Huskies. He went for two. Same identical play. Todd jumps for it and again nabs it for 2 more.The pressure was now on Eau Claire. I told the left DE Dave Minor that it was "up to him and me because you know they are coming at us".1st down: North runs play up the middle and gains 1 yard to the 9.2nd down: The ball snaps and just like I had seen 20 other times in this game the QB fakes to the full back. Key. I burst inside heading at him as hard as I could determined to knock the snot out of him and make him dump the ball off before he was ready. Focused so hard that I can still count the number of steps I took. When Billy Sand turned around to check off on me I was already in his face....He pitched the ball without even looking for his back. He threw the ball 3 yards behind Dave Runnings and the ball kept going all the way back to the 22 yard line. I scrambled after it and had my hands on it but lost the struggle for the wayward oblong. It was still good though, it cost them 12 yards. Got the bobble credited to me and the tackle for a huge loss.3rd down: Billy dropped back and connected over the middle and got the 12 back, tackled by our safety Larry Smith and ?????.4th down: They pulled the TO QB boot right. Dave Minor didn't fool around with it this time. He pulled that white boy speed out of his @$$ and hauled the runner down from behind for a 3 yd loss.Game over. We won. Often in the course of a sports year the two best teams face each each other before the final and big game. That the real championship game is invariably played earlier in the season may be occurring much more that we realize. I think this was so this day. For in my opinion I believe this was the best game of that year in the State of Wisconsin. Just another one of those things that I can not really know for sure.................When the game ended I looked for Billy Sand. I didn't find him. I am not sure exactly what I would have said to him but I definitely thought that I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to congratulate him personally and tell him what a great team North was. They were good....very good. Better-n-the one team that beat us.I ended up with about 14 tackles, I missed another 6, co- defensive player of the game with Dave Minor, whiplash, a minor stroke, massive bruises and memories to last a life time. And the greatest memory of what it feels like to play with champions because that is what we were and to this day, come what may I maintain still are.At the end of the game I gave thanks to God.At this end of this season I gave thanks unto God and I am still giving thanks unto my Lord.We didn't make the playoffs because the WIAA(Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association)judges down at state screwed up the math and by the time they got it straightened out playoffs were over but the University of Wisconsin's football scouting crews who rated the HS football teams every year independent of the WIAA gave us their number one rank. I guess that is consolation. We will never know. I am convinced that we would have probably won the championship but there is an aside.I was suffering from some very bad and painful injuries and I would not tell anyone I was hurt, It surely would have killed me.God is in control......................................................


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Before you comment remember one thing. The vast majority of what I say are my own personal thoughts and insites. Though the norm for a reporter is to back up what he says with data and info I am not a reporter nor a pundit. I am a plain old American having my say..........