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The Championship Game MAG
Finally, the end of the school day! Getting to my locker quickly, I gather my books and uniform and head against the traffic flowing out of the school, to the gym. Entering the locker room, I greet my teammates and change for the big game. Red, long-sleeved jersey with BROCKTON printed across the front and 32 on the back, black nylon shorts, hard plastic shin guards, red socks with white tops, and cleated black leather footwear. As the team boards the bus, various comments are shouted about how we will beat our rival team, New Bedford.
The coach enters the bus and everyone falls silent, waiting for and obeying every word he barks, for he is the disciplinarian. He can easily make practices grueling or make them somewhat bearable. During the forty-five minute trek to New Bedford, the bus is busy with whispers about the importance of this game. If we can squeeze a win from this ruthless team, the Brockton mens' soccer team will become Big Three Champions, a league which includes Brockton, New Bedford, and Durfee.
As the bus pulls up to New Bedford High, the excitement inside rises to a maximum. The team gushes from the bus like water from a broken dam. Jogging to the playing field, we form a circle and begin stretching. The ground is dry and in need of a good rain, a necessity that may be fulfilled today judging from the ominous, blue-grey rolling clouds forming overhead. After stretching, we start to pass the ball around and warm up.
The referee calls the captains to the center of the field. The coin is tossed and as it flips in the air, a single sunbeam, let through by the increasing magnitude of clouds covering the sky, glistens off it. Heads, we take possession of the ball first. The referee proceeds to warn the two teams, especially Brockton, of assorted penalties and the consequences of committing them. Brockton has somehow earned the reputation of being a team whose players use unfair techniques. We had tried to change that by being sportsmanlike, but to no avail.
After a brief huddle with the coach to discuss last-minute strategies, we retake our positions. As the defensive stopper, my responsibility is to ensure the opposing center does not get the ball near our goal. The opening whistle is sounded. The first half is full of non-stop action, both teams trying their hardest, only to be rejected by the superb defense of both. Time after time the powerful force of both offenses attempts to enter the eighteen-yard box, but opposition is too great. Both Brockton and New Bedford are acclaimed for their omnipotent defensive lines. Neither team scores during this thirty-five minute struggle of wits and skill. The half-time whistle sounds.
The exhausted team huddles around the coach. As I look at my teammates, I witness looks of exasperation, frustration and disgust. The coach explains what we have been doing wrong and what we should be doing. The five-minute half-time rest seems to last only thirty seconds, and the referee calls us back to the field with his whistle. We take our starting positions after the coach calls for an inspirational cheer. The much-expected rain now begins to fall, making the field muddy and slick.
Both teams, dead-tired at the end of the first half, now reach inward for their second winds. The second half is fierce. It is filled with heated arguments, tripping, pushing, even punching, but no scoring.
Suddenly the referee calls that there are five minutes left. There is no overtime, and after this display of professional-like soccer, neither team wants to go home with a tie. The last five minutes are the longest I've ever experienced in any soccer game. Both teams increase their level of play. Every player is now playing one hundred and ten percent. There are no more smiles on the field. Over the span of the next three minutes, three are taken off the field due to injuries.
Our offense sets up a beautiful play. Sharp pass to the right wing, touch back to the right halfback, powerful airborne kick across the field directly to the left halfback, chip up the corner of the field for the left wing, short grass-skimming cross to the center. The center has one man to beat until he can go one-on-one with the goalie. He completely confuses and accelerates past his man with fancy footwork. He now has a ten-yard sprint to get within firing distance of the goal. Everyone now suddenly stops and watches. The crowd and players become silent. The center looks at the goalie, fakes a shot, and then lets the ball go with a kick full of power. The ball screams toward the goal. The goalie makes a graceful dive toward the ball, outstretching his back and arms to knock it away. He's too late. Goal! A perfect shot into the upper right-hand corner of the goal. A loud crack of thunder rips through the atmosphere at almost the same time as the goal is scored. Slightly shocked by the sudden boom, the team congratulates each other enthusiastically, but returns to their starting positions quickly to prevent them from losing their focus.
Two minutes remain. New Bedford has possession of the ball. They manage it down to our end of the field. A pass is broken up, but it goes to their right wing who passes into the middle, their center traps the ball and shoots, they score. No! The goal is called back; the center was off-sides, a penalty that gives the ball to us.
Using the rest of the time simply to keep New Bedford players away from the ball is an effortless accomplishment. Their morale is crushed after our goal, their recalled goal, and the effects of the rain. The referee finally blows the game- ending whistle. Our team explodes with excitement. After five or ten minutes of celebrating we congratulate the other team for their efforts. The ride home to Brockton is pure energy. After fighting the image of being an unsportsmanlike team, we enjoy the title of being the Big Three champions legitimately, and no one can take that away from us. n