Antwane makes weight, but he can't do much to help his team. The Warriors look disorganized against the Rams and lose by a touchdown. Most of the players, who have yet to master their multiplication tables in school, have not yet picked up Johnson's complicated new offense, which is based on the high-scoring system used at Georgia Southern University. The players continue to struggle the next week in a loss to Florida City and a week after that in another loss, to Overtown.
"I've never lost this way," Johnson mutters on the bus ride to play the undefeated Palmetto Raiders, the best team in the league this season. "Every year we won. Every year. I mean, we...never...lost. It's hard for me to understand."
The Warriors' fate against the Raiders is foretold on the game's first play. Only 10 Warriors take to the field for the opening kickoff. Things get worse. On the Warriors' opening offensive play, a simple hand-off, a Palmetto linebacker crushes the Warriors' ballcarrier, leaving him lying on his back wheezing for a full minute, trying to draw air into his lungs. The Warriors go three-and-out. Palmetto's offense, in contrast, scores on each of its three drives.
At halftime, a Warriors father pulls Johnson aside. "Coach, I don't mean to disrespect you," the father says, "but you all gotta get out there and kick ass. Kick ass, y'all!"
Late in the second half, with the score climbing beyond reach, a Warrior goes down after a hit. Warren, a linebacker, collapses at the 35-yard-line. The coaches sprint onto the field and gather round their fallen player.
The coaches decide it's probably just a neck sprain, but to be safe, they call an ambulance. As they wait, Warren's cousin, who also plays for the Warriors, pokes his head inside the huddle of coaches and says, "Is he dead?"
After Warren is loaded into the ambulance, Johnson climbs in beside him. He grasps Warren's small hand as he stares out the rectangular rear windows at the field, watching his players shrink in size as they resume play.
At the hospital Johnson signs Warren in, then joins his wife in the waiting room, where he tries to find someone from Warren's family. Finding someone at home on a Friday night proves to be a challenge. Hours after the game has ended, Johnson finally locates a cousin, who tells him Warren's mother will come to the hospital to retrieve her son. But when?
Hours pass. On the TV in the lobby, the news is over, Letterman is over, and now Conan is about to surrender the airwaves to a talk show Johnson has never seen before. With Warren stabilized—it is just a neck sprain—Johnson slumps into a hard blue plastic chair and again tries to reach Warren's mother.
At about 1:30 a.m., the sliding doors to the emergency room swish open, and Warren's mother stumbles in. She's wearing spandex hot pants that don't completely cover her buttocks. In her left hand she holds car keys; in her right hand she holds a plastic cup radiating Wild Turkey fumes.