In the locker
room at South Haven, Martens has gathered his team around him. "All right,
people," he says slowly, solemnly and resonantly. "We have worked hard.
Now we are going to find out how tough you are. Hit! Hit! Hit! Play the game
the way you have learned to play it. Hold those blocks. No arm tackling. Fire
off the ball. No mistakes. Think, no mistakes. Technique and think.
"We are going
to see who wants this game the most—you or them. If they want it more, they'll
take it away from you. You have got to want it more than they do. All right,
Toward the end of
his short speech, Martens' voice has risen and the muscles in his face and the
vessels in his neck have become taut and visible. The players, who often do not
seem to follow his speeches during practice with much attention, are rapt. When
he finishes they give a loud, unexpected, wordless shout and sprint down the
hallway of the locker room and onto the field.
impression of the game is that desire, thought and technique will not bear
heavily on the outcome. The more important factor is that South Haven seems to
have larger, quicker and more numerous players. South Haven scores once in the
first half and would have scored oftener had it not been for several penalties,
a fumble recovery and an interception by Rick Jensen.
Vicksburg hangs on—Hunt and Jensen will make 30 tackles between them in the
game—but on offense the team is erratic. Schutter, in his first game as
starting quarterback, is having trouble, not just in completing passes, but
also in passing at all. Three straight times he rolls out, cocks his arm but
cannot pull the trigger and ends up eating the ball for losses. "I couldn't
get set," he explains clinically. "When I did get set, I couldn't see
Vicksburg's offense in the first half is Jensen. The fullback carries the ball
20 times that night for 90 yards, more than half Vicksburg's total. He is not
fast, but he is strong and determined, and he fights his way for four or five
yards a play, often carrying tacklers on his back the last few feet. Only in a
game does it become apparent why Rick Jensen, a casual practice player, is so
admired by his teammates and coaches.
A number of
parents and other Vicksburg adults have driven to South Haven for the opening
game. By and large, they are silent as they watch their team being pushed
around the field. An exception is the father who had complained earlier that
the coaches were not working the players hard enough in practice. He sees the
first half as vindication of his opinion and is loud and sarcastic about how
weak and badly coached the team is. Al Dekker, a small, feisty, gray-bearded
man whose son is John Dekker, the center-tackle, is retired because of his
years and a heart condition, but he turns on the critic and tells him he should
be ashamed of attacking his own team, his own town. He says that if he doesn't
shut up, he, Dekker, will fight him. Cooler heads prevail, and the
confrontation is avoided.
In the locker
room at halftime Martens tells his troops that the game can still be won if
they want it more. Then he goes to work at the blackboard with the Xs and Os.
Schutter, Cree, Noel and Mark Brown, an offensive end, take part in this
strategy discussion, making suggestions. Jensen, soaked with sweat and with a
trickle of blood on the bridge of his nose, goes to the far end of the locker
room and flops down on the floor between two of his friends, Dekker and Mike
Simmons, a 140-pound defensive end. Hunt is in another corner of the room. He
has more than held his own against several tough opponents but feels that the
best is yet to come. "I'm going to take that turkey the rest of the
way," he says of a big South Haven lineman.
Whether it is the
rest, the pep talk or coaching instructions, Vicksburg comes out strong in the
second half. Hunt is as much responsible for the turnabout as anyone. He indeed
begins to handle not only his own turkey, but also several other South Haven
linemen. His defensive ferocity blunts the opponent's running game, and
increasingly the South Haven quarterback has to pass. He proves to be less
accurate than had been feared. With Hunt leading the blocking, Vicksburg's
attack becomes more diversified. Jensen continues to gain on his short plunges,
and Cree begins to contribute yardage around the ends. Schutter, more
confident, completes passes to Brown, and, finally, to Noel, who has been
insisting all night he can beat his man deep.
There are many
theories about motivation and momentum, but there is also an observable
fact—high emotion has an analgesic and anesthetic effect, enabling people to
ignore pains and disabilities they ordinarily could not. Hunt comes out of a
pile of bodies limping badly on what later proves to be a fairly severe ankle
sprain. Martens removes him from the game, and Mike Blough, the assistant
coach, tapes the ankle. Soon Hunt is back in the game, still limping but as
active as ever. Cree gets hit in the head but sits on the bench for only four
plays, until his senses clear. Brown, leaping high for a pass, is belted in
midair by two defenders but holds on to the ball. He lies gasping for breath on
the ground, and the next day his chest is blue from the blow, but he does not
miss a play.