Our Boys (cont.)
Word of the scouting report spread through the room like a nasty virus. When Coach Barta finally heard about it, he took it away without reading it. He could tell his team didn't need any more motivation.
To get to the field from their locker room, the Redmen parted hundreds of La Crosse fans through a gap in the home team's grandstands. They paired off and clasped hands. They seemed to get bigger as they passed through the hostile territory. There was not a trace of nervous energy as they took the field for the opening kickoff.
The first minute of the game set the tone for the next 47. On the second play from scrimmage at the Redmen's own 8-yard line, Joe Osburn took the ball from Travis and followed a devastating block by Cody Tucker, bounced to the Smith Center sideline, and then went 92 yards for the touchdown. The Redmen's whole bench provided an out-of-bounds convoy for him into the end zone. It set off a cathartic celebration in the Smith Center grandstands and left the Leopard faithful silent and out of breath.
La Crosse's fans came to life again after the kickoff when the Leopards' offense took the field. This unit was averaging more than 52 points a game -- surely they would answer the Redmen's opening salvo. As Garcia led the Leopards to the line of scrimmage, Marshall McCall tapped Trevor on the rump and nodded resolutely at Kris.
When the ball was snapped, he zeroed in on Marshall Musil, who had the ball and was drifting left. Trevor had him at the thighs, and Marshall McCall lowered his head and suddenly felt like he had been fired from a slingshot.
The collision was brutal. Marshall had buried Musil for a two-yard loss.
La Crosse went three plays and was forced to punt. Travis Rempe was smiling as he led the Redmen offense onto the field.
Travis handed the ball to his brother four straight times, each of them ending the same way -- with Trevor dragging La Crosse tacklers into the center of the field. Now that the middle was soft, Travis handed the ball to Colt, who scooted off tackle between Justin and Kris and was in the end zone 50 yards later. Just like that, the score was Redmen 12, Leopards 0.
After forcing La Crosse to punt again, Smith Center looked to close the door for good. Instead, Colt lost the punt in the lights, and the ball bounced off his shoulder pads. The Leopards recovered it at the Smith Center 9-yard line. Colt hung his head, and on the sidelines his father, Mike, did the same. On third and goal, Jeremy Garcia hit Corey Torrez on a slant pattern for a seven- yard score, cutting the lead to 12-6 after Musil's kick failed.
The Redmen took their time, going 69 yards over 13 plays. Trevor Rempe again was the work horse, and he showed the Leopards how a fullback runs from the textbook. He took nine handoffs up the middle, his legs never stopping, and his helmet bashing into Musil, Garcia, and whoever else got in his way. When he took the ball into the end zone from the 1-yard line, it was Trevor's 38th yard on the drive and he looked as strong as he did when the game began.
The Redmen defense was even better. Brock had dissected La Crosse perfectly. Marshall and Kris Lehmann were following the guard Kershner and delivering knee-wobbling hits on Garcia, Musil, and Moeder. Dillon, Trevor, and Joel Osburn were getting to Musil in the backfield as he moved laterally, never letting him get his shoulders squared. Whenever the Leopards got the tiniest bit of offensive traction, the Redmen came up with big plays. On consecutive drives, spanning the second and third quarters, La Crosse reached the Redmen's 31-, 26-, 36-, and 11-yard lines before having to give up the ball on downs.
No one knew better how dominating the Redmen defense was than Marshall Musil. After 48 minutes of football, the best running back in Kansas and future Oklahoma Sooner had gained just 21 yards and his high school career ended without a state title in a 32-14 loss. He led the Leopards across the field to shake hands and, after making it halfway through the line, couldn't help himself.
"What! Are there like three thousand of you guys?" he said. "It felt like that all night. Everywhere I went, one of you guys was on me."
When he reached the end of the line, Coach Barta reached out his right hand and stretched his left arm up to touch Musil's shoulder pad. "I knew your father, and he was a really good man," he told Musil. "I know how proud he is of you as a football player, and as a man. Good luck at Oklahoma."