Thursday, September 29, 2011

Battle of the 'Burn

"There he is!" yelled my nephew from the stands as the Stone Bridge High School Football "Bulldogs" ran onto the field.  "He's amazing and Coach Thompson is the best coach ever!"  Joey, my exuberant nephew, at the young age of 8...knows  more about football than a child of that age should be allowed...was explaining this to me as I was peering through my binoculars.  I'm staring out onto the field and I see the team run bye, the obvious training staff, other coaches and the cheerleaders run past and then I spy this older guy who is gingerly trotting, wearing jeans, a sky blue school polo and cap.  He kneels down as if he is picking clover from the field and I look at Joey and ask, "That guy, he's Mickey Thompson?"  What is it they say about first impressions?  Anyways, he didn't even look like a coach nor did he seem to be caught up in the electric atmosphere of a huge rivalry game that was about to take place.  To be quite honest, Mickey Thompson looked more like the school groundskeeper than that of a Championship winning High School Football coach.

Coach Thompson's resume' speaks for itself though, and I'll give him his due:  In ten years of existence as a High School, Stone Bridge, under Coach Thompson, has won a 3A Virgina State High School Championship and has been defeated in three others.  Not too shabby by any standards, which is why I was rather perplexed at why Coach Thompson didn't seem motivated on this particular Fall evening in Ashburn, VA, and why his team was playing so damn bad in the first half.

Call it nerves, seriously...we're talking High School kids in front of parents and family...facing a cross town rival in Broad Run High School that were ranked 8th in the state in what would be known as the "Battle of the 'Burn."  Catchy, but Stone Bridge wasn't living up to it's 12th ranked billing as they fumbled on the the first play from scrimmage.  It leads to an early Field Goal for the opposition and I was starting to wonder what was so amazing about Mickey Thompson's coaching ability when on his next possession, Stone Bridge goes for it on 4th down and 16 from within their own 40 yard line.  Now, it's High School football and I sorta expect that...Coach Thompson is trying to fire up his boys.  Does he go for broke with a special play that will turn the tide?, it's a running play, right up the gut, that gains only 2 yards.  Broad Run takes over and promptly scores, taking a 10-0 lead. 

If those were the only miscues on the night I would have given Coach Thompson and his team a break but that first half also included a shanked punt by the punter, Broad Run scores another TD where the receiver is so wide open that he stops on the ten yard line and walks in and I kid you not...Stone Bridge's defense finally forces a Broad Run punt and guess what?  There was no return man back to return it.  Some bad tackling and a couple more turnovers lead to another touchdown and  mercifully the score at halftime is Broad Run 24- Stone Bridge 0.

Joey was beside himself.  He might not be big enough to play for that team but he lives vicariously through them...this was going to be where he and his older brother went to school...and his "BULLDOGS" were letting him down at the moment...with each miscue by Stone Bridge he would squeeze my arm tighter and yell in vain into the night air...he'd seen enough and was imploring us to leave.

 First of all, I didn't have a dog in this fight other than the fact that this was my nephews future school.  Secondly, I was right there with him and wanting to leave...we had just watched some really bad football and I honestly didn't have the stomach to see this game turn into some Roman Colesium re-enactment where the Lions ate the Christians.  But, this being America...we don't abandon our team in it's hour of need...did we give up when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?(Some of you will get that, if not here's a clue:  Animal House.)  Besides, I wanted to set an example to my nephew about perserverence and team loyalty; we were staying and I leaned down and told Joey, "Hey, you said Coach Thompson was amazing, right?  Well, if he's as good as you say he is he'll find some way to get his team back in the game...that's what good coaches do!  Don't give up.  Trust me, Stone Bridge will come back and it will be close!"  I was just being a good Uncle and if it's what uncles do's tell a white lie every now and again... because, there was no way in Hades that Stone Bridge was going to win this game.

I can't imagine what was going through Coach Thompson's mind during halftime or now, that once the two schools resumed play, Broad Run was still pouring it on his beleaguered side as they were now camped inside the 3 yard line going in, for what would yet, seem like another touchdown. It's 4th down, a field goal would give them 27, but  Broad Run was smelling blood and wanted the touchdown; they knew this was going to be the death blow. Through it all, Mickey Thompson was as calm as a mountain lake in summertime...I sense he thought maybe he was pondering the calls or mistakes that had lead to this moment of defeat or...maybe how the dew glistened off the grass near the end zone...who knew?  I damn sure didn't have a clue to what this amazing coach was thinking.

I do know this:  Football is a momentum sport.  Sometimes you get it by dragging your opponent up and down the field all night or...sometimes you get it by having the shit kicked out you all night.  A  certain Stone Bridge defender probably felt this way as he fought off his blocker and sliced into the backfield on that 4th down and in his best WWF move picked up the ball carrier and suplexed him to the ground.  Touchdown averted...more importantly...the momentum had turned in favor of Stone Bridge.

To mount a great comeback in most sports you need lots of luck and amazing coaching.  Remember that 4th and 16 situation that Stone Bridge found themselves in the first know, where they only got 2 yards?  Coach Thompson is calling the same play on this current drive, but now the runner is gashing the Broad Run defense for huge chunks of real estate.  It's so effective that the Stone Bridge split-end is able to get behind the secondary and catch an easy pass for the first Stone Bridge score. Ok, ok...Coach Thompson can coach...and my first assessment of him was horribly wrong.  I think he knew his boys were about to turn it around...after all he is the coach.

 The luck part:  Broad Run's all world quarterback decides in successive drives to throw two costly interceptions.  Yes, they led to scores and yes Stone Bridge did come back and tie the game but they needed  3 (2) point conversions to go along with those often does that happen?  As dramatic as that sounds Stone Bridge was able to rally with so much time still on the clock;  Both teams had great opportunities to take the lead before the end of regulation.  It was desperation time for both as each was throwing hay makers to try and settle the issue.  It was like watching Ali vs. Frazier...truly a classic in the making as we go to, this game was tough on the 'ole nerves.

It always comes down to the little things being done right, and immense confidence in your ability.  You could tell the Broad Run place kicker was a little nervous on his attempt at the PAT.  Sure enough he clangs it off the right upright.  Stone Bridge's turn on downs and they run it up the gut like they have all night in the second half and tie the game at 30.  Out runs the Stone Bridge kicker with the confidence of Secretariat in the Kentucky Derby and he drills the PAT through the goalposts...sending the Stone Bridge Football Stadium into a sheer "moshpit" of delirium as the students rush the field.

By all accounts, it has to rank as one of the most unbelievable comebacks I've ever seen in me I've seen a lot of WOLFPACK football!!  I'd be lying if I told you that Coach Mickie Thompson was carried on his players shoulders...maybe they did...I doubt it, the throng of the crowd prevented me from seeing that take place or maybe he just got out of the way and let his team enjoy the moment as he just plucked some more clover out of the ground...that's what I think happened.  Anyways, Joey and I are walking back to my Toyota Truck, "The Red Dragon," and I ask him, "How was that for a finish?"  The young boy with so much football knowledge responds with one simple word, "Amazing."

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