Red Zone

March 17, 2010
By , New City, NY
Summer, 2006, the East High varsity football team has just ended their practice. This was the team that had come in second at last years state championships.

It was the final 4 minutes of the game, East High was winning against their
archrivals West High by 12 and they had the ball. McKnight, the starting quarterback, was lined up in the shotgun formation. A bad snap from the center had caused a fumble and West High recovered. With 3 minutes left in the game. West High ran a counter sweep for a big gain of about 35 yards. Then a slant from the wide receiver put the game to within 5. With 1 minute on the clock, West High ran an onside kick. East High got the ball but was hit with a personal foul for roughing after the play was over, the kick was done over and a good bounce gave West High the ball. Now as West High marched down the field, the feeling in everyone’s mind, shock, disbelief. With 25 seconds left, West High ran a hook and ladder play for a gain of 12 yards. This put West High on East high’s 15 yard line. Taking a timeout, East High coaches and players debated on how to run the next play, they decided to run a zone blitz. This left the middle of the field open for a slant route, which is exactly what West High ran scoring a touchdown with 10 seconds on the clock. On the issuing kickoff, West High squib kicked and East High recovered with about 8 seconds on the clock. Nothing could be done but a hail mary, which was deflected by 2 safeties’. The unthinkable had happened, a stunning comeback left East High in disbelief. The locker room was silent; know one wanted to talk about the game. When coach came in, he said one thing; next year.

Now, East High only thought of that next game against West High. With all 35 returning players, they believed they were bigger and better. Redemption was written on the walls of the locker room and all were focused on the start of season. As school started, practices were every day and the season was getting closer and closer. The team was looking great and their chemistry was remarkable. The regular season was 10 games and then the playoffs. They competed with teams from all over the county and then the state. With about a week before their first game against Putnam, a team that was average, the team practiced as if they were playing in the super bowl. Readiness was key, many teams could have had a bad day when scouts came to see them and East High could not afford to be too cocky. The night before the game, all players went to bed early with high hopes for the season.

Game day, after the school day, the players met up in the locker room. This was when the coach talked to them about what he wanted to see and what he expected to see out of the players. The eagerness was seen on every single player, they were ready. They ran out onto the field welcomed by cheers and chants. When Putnam arrived it was game time, both teams sent their captains to mid-field for the coin toss. Putnam had won the toss, they choose to receive.

Kickoff, with both teams on the field, the season was about to start, players were jumping up and down as the kicker kicked the ball down field. East High quickly tackled the opponent returner. This was about as close as the score got, as East High went on to win 35 to 6. The team felt really good after this victory as they marched into school the next day holding their heads high. After the day of glory, the team got back into a competitive mindset. Their next game was at Rochester, a team that had the same record as them. Rochester was always known as a bad mouth, dirty playing team, it was not going to be easy for East High. With a week to prepare, East High practiced with great intensity, practicing for about 3 hours everyday after school. The game was on Monday night at Rochester, so the team got Sunday off.

After school on Monday, the team got together to watch film, this was there usual pre-game thing. On the bus to Rochester, the team got fired up and was very excited to play. They heard the stadium from a mile away as the Rochester fans had shown up in hundreds.

Kickoff, Rochester had won the toss and they chose to kick. Joe McKnight, East High’s quarterback and Sean Patton, East High’s running back, led the team onto the field after the kick return. With the first play, Rochester sent an all out blitz; East High ran a screen play, which worked perfectly as wide receiver Thomas Jones picked up a big gain for 23 yards. The people in the stands could tell McKnight was on tonight, as he completed 3 more passes to score a touchdown. At the end of the first half East High was leading 14 – 3. Going into the halftime huddle, East High discussed how they had to keep the intensity up and not to let the game slip away. They went back into the game and scored a defensive touchdown, this was a real game changer because Rochester had no momentum left as they just watched East High throw on more points. The final score, 28 – 10. Back on the bus, the team began to chant and the bus was shaking, the coaches were happy with the team performance and gave them the next day of practice off.

After 5 games, East High was 5 - 0, their arch rivals West High, also 5 – 0. These two teams play each other in week 6; this game was one of the most anticipated games in the entire state. It would be televised and called on the radio; they will be travelling up to Syracuse to use the orange bowl, Syracuse’s stadium. With about 3 days before the game, East High practiced their hardest, they understood how much this game was and they didn’t want to make the same mistake again. About a night to go before the game, Joe McKnight had come down with the flu. This was a huge blow to the team, he wasn’t too happy himself. He went to the coach and told the coach he was still going to play, but coach said no and that he need him for the rest of the season. McKnight, not happy, respected his coaches decision. Now the quarterback for East High would be Jacob Winchester, he was a junior but never got to play much beyond JV because of how good McKnight was. He was told about the situation and told coach he was ready for the game and that he would give it his all.

Game day, time to shine said all the coaches at the team meeting, coach gave a very inspirational speech to his players and really got them fired up. At the game, the teams were both jumping with excitement, the captains met at mid-field for the coin toss. The entire stadium got quiet as the six players stared at each other, the coin went up and was heads, East High would receive the ball first. A bad kick return gave East High the ball at their ten yard line. Winchester marched onto the field with his team; he lined up in I formation and handed the ball off to Patton, a gain of 6 yards. Next play coach called out to run the “new play”, as they called it. This play was a backward pass screen to the wide receiver Jones and he would look to throw deep. The play almost never worked but you never know. The team came to the line; Winchester called out the linebacker’s position and snapped the ball. The quick screen was complete, Jones looked up and saw the tight end, Matt Thompson wide open down field, Jones winded up and launched a 42 yard pass down field to Thompson, complete. Thompson had the end zone in sight and scored with ease. The team could hear West High’s coach screaming at his defense and the East High players laughed. At the end of the first quarter, East High was leading 7 – 3. A low scoring game meant that both defenses were playing extremely well. No team scored during the second quarter, both teams were not letting up. At halftime, coach told his players to stay strong and play like it’s the states. The team went out and kickoff, kicking to number 23, after braking 3 tackles number 23 scored on the kick return to put West High in the lead 10 – 7. East High then answered with a 20 yard field goal to tie the score at 10. To the fourth quarter, “crunch time”. Both teams not giving up, East High scored an early touchdown giving them a lead of 7. West High answered by putting up another touchdown and a 2 point conversion. The score with a minute to go was 18 – 17, West High. East High was relaxed, as they had been in this position before, Joe McKnight took Winchester aside and told him to stay calm and not to give up. That’s exactly what he did, marching the team down onto West High’s 25 yard line. It was all up to their kicker, Josh Becker. Josh had been practicing really hard last offseason to work on his accuracy. With 2 seconds left in the game, a field goal was all East High needed to win the game, Becker jogged onto the field with the special teams unit. They set up, a bad snap from the center left little time to get a kick off, Becker managed to kick it but it went right as he had been rushed to kick. West High’s bench had erupted into wild yells and taunting, they ran off the field into the locker room immediately. East High could not believe what had just happened, they had it, it was almost too easy and they lost. Coaches were furious, they yelled for half an hour about 1 play, and the team new tomorrow was not going to be a fun practice.

The next few weeks went by as planned; East High won the remaining 3 games, making them 8-1 for the season. This was a great record but they still realized it could have been better. They wanted more; they wanted to feel like West High felt after beating East High. As playoffs began, East High won the first game with ease, beating Putnam 35-14. This game was a big confidence booster for East High as they went on to the semi-finals against Valley High School.

At the start of this game East High came out strong as kicker returner Sean Patton ran the kick return back for a touchdown to start the game. At half time, East High was winning by a score of 17-7. This was a good score against a Valley team that was supposed to have a high power offense. Coach said the same thing every half time, keep it up. Another 30 minutes and they would be playing the team they swore to beat in the state championships. With 5 minutes to go in the 4th quarter, McKnight began to complain of a low ankle pain. He was sacked by a big defensive end and went down on his ankle in an awkward way. With help from his teammates, he was able to walk off the field, the team doctor said that he had a low ankle sprain and the he couldn’t walk for a week, the team wasn’t too excited but the injury could have been worse. He would still be able to play against West High in the championships. With a minute to go in the game, the score was 20-14, East High. East High had the ball and ran 3 run plays to run down the clock, they had won. Usually, teams in East High’s position would celebrate making it to the state championships, but East High was focused on West High.

With a week to go before the game, the buzz was all around East and West High’s campuses, the students were very excited. The game would be held at Syracuse’s dome field, where East High had lost to West High in the regular season game. East High’s practices went as planned and they felt ready. They started the second day after their win over Valley with conditioning for 2 days and then went on to hitting. 4 days before the game, Joe McKnight was cleared to play and he began to practice with extreme intensity. The team was ready for this game; it would be the game of their lives.

Game day, the East High team met at the school for the team meeting, the coaches said they wanted to win just as bad as the players did. They got on the bus and headed for Syracuse. They got their and saw West High’s bus parked right outside of the stadium, they did their pump up ritual and got off the bus.

In the locker room, East High was silent, no one talked, and they were all to focused on the task at hand. They wanted this more than anything, and walking into that locker room, you could tell. As the coaches came in the players raised their heads expecting a speech, there wasn’t one. The coach came in and said one thing, redemption. At this Joe McKnight stood up and called all the players in and they said this was there year.

Kickoff, the teams jogged onto the field to hear the roars of 80,000 people, they had done this before and they were used to it. At mid-field, the coin toss took place, East High had won the toss and they chose to kick. At the kickoff, East High kicked off and made the tackle down field. As the defense marched out, one could feel the excitement in the air. After the first quarter, West High had the lead with the score being, 7-3. East High was happy about this and went out after the quarter ended ready. East High got another field goal to make the score 7-6. They could not score in the red zone, so they had to take field goals. After this, no one could score because both defenses were playing great.

Halftime, back in the locker room East High began to talk and the mood lightened up. The coach came in and asked the team if they wanted this game, they all screamed yes.

2nd half, East High began there possession by running the kick off back for 56 yards, putting them in great field position. McKnight came onto the field and with the first throw put East High inside the 5 yard line. A fullback dive was called and it worked; the score as now 13-7, East High. This continued through the 3rd quarter and half way through the 4th. West High had the ball and scored a field goal, the score was now 13-10, East High. East High had a 3 and out on their next possession and gave West High the ball bake with 2 minutes left. West High scored a touchdown making the score 17-13, West High. This was key because now East High had to score a touchdown in order to win the game. McKnight took his offense out and brought them down the field, at West High’s forty yard line, McKnight called a timeout with 35 seconds left. He asked coach what play to run and coach responded: run the play you think will won. That play was the secret play which they had ran against Putnam in the first game. McKnight called the play and went onto the field. The stadium was silent, he called hike and off they went. The screen to Jones and McKnight began to sprint down field, no one was on McKnight. Jones saw this and waited for the right moment, he threw the ball up to McKnight; the throw was off, so off that McKnight had to change direction to catch it, the ball tipped out of his hands and fell to the ground. The good side to this was that they had another play; McKnight ran back to the huddle and called the next play. In this play the tight end would set a screen down field for the wide receiver. Thompson set the screen and Jones went off of it perfectly, McKnight let the ball go and with a leaping catch, Jones caught the ball inside the end zone for a touchdown. The stadium went crazy, fans were jumping out of the seats and the East High team was screaming. After the extra point, the score was 20-17, East High with about 7 seconds to go. The kickoff was a squib and they tackle the ball carrier with 3 seconds to go. West High tried a hail mary, which was unsuccessful. East High had won the championships, and they had earned it. Their fans crowded the field as they celebrated. The coach said he was very impressed with their effort and play and that they deserved this. The got on the bus and chanted all the way home.

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