Jensen outgains Rubleski during most of the first half, but neither he nor
Schutter on his roll-out runs and passes can gain consistently. A Hackett nose
guard is Jensen's particular nemesis. He is short, strong, agile, black and a
Golden Gloves heavyweight boxer. Jensen knows him from civilian life, so to
speak. "You meet him on the street," he says, "and you think he's
just a fat. quiet little guy, but you say the wrong word and he'll punch out
Hunt is going
one-on-one against another formidable Hackett lineman. It seems an even
contest, but during a timeout Hunt comes sprinting to the sidelines in a kind
of frenzy. He seeks out Mike Blough, the assistant coach, and yells, "He's
taking me, Mr. Blough! He's taking me! I can't move him!" Blough, a quiet,
unflappable man, says, "Steve, he's a good ballplayer, and so are you. He's
going to take you sometimes, and sometimes you're going to take him. Just stay
Hunt goes back on
the field, and Blough says, "Steve is not used to going against people who
are as strong and quick as he is. That Hackett kid is one of the best tackles
in this part of the state, but so is Steve. Steve thinks because he can't
handle him all the time he's getting beat. It's a new experience, but maybe
it's a good one for him."
Before the season
began, Martens said his team was undermanned and that Vicksburg might be in
trouble when it went against teams that were just as good but deeper. The truth
of this becomes apparent as the Hackett game progresses. Hunt and Jensen and
the others who are playing both offense and defense are facing fresh, rested
opponents whenever the ball changes hands. Inexorably, Hackett begins to
prevail, grinds down the field and finally scores to lead 7-0 at the half.
two more touchdowns, and late in the game their linemen break through to block
one of Mark Brown's punts deep in Vicksburg territory. Brown retrieves the ball
but is chased with it into the end zone and is tackled there for a safety. When
he gets up he disgustedly slams the ball down, while the Hackett crowd cheers
derisively. The spike draws a 15-yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff.
So inevitable is
the outcome that most of the Vicksburg players seem to feel dull relief rather
than sharp disappointment when the game finally ends, Hackett winning 23-0.
Hunt, whose performance, one stud against several, can accurately be called
gallant, still has his country sense of humor. He is asked, "Remember in
August, when you said it makes you feel good for a week to really beat somebody
up in a game? How about tonight?"
"I guess I've
made that dude feel good for two weeks," he says.
But for two
people the defeat is unbearably bitter. After the game, his teammates limping
to the locker room, Jensen remains on the field, slumped on the bench, his head
bowed, tears running down his face through the dirt, blood, sweat and dried
saliva. It would be unthinkable to offer comfort or cheer, there being none for
this man at this moment. And Martens, alone in the locker room after his
players have showered, dressed and departed, beats his fist gently,
distractedly, on the top of a taping table. "I wanted to win that one so
bad," he says quietly. "So bad."
It has been
remarked upon many times before, but repetition does not make it any less true:
one of the best things about being 17 or 18 is how quickly your mind and body
recuperate from all sorts of hurts. Two hours after they have been drubbed by
Hackett, most of the Vicksburg football players and their girls, along with
some hangers-on, are gathered for a party. Though he is not big on large social
affairs, Hunt stops by for a while before going out to cruise the countryside
in his Dart with some older friends. "Everything feels better now," he
says, grinning. He and Jensen, who has controlled and assimilated his misery,
commence throwing ice cubes at each other, then bags of ice cubes and finally
parties may not be a necessary adjunct to Friday evening football, but the two
are as connected as cheese and burgers. Too many juices have been stirred up to
go home and watch television or study for a Monday world culture test. There
has to be more action to sop up the juices, and the rowdier it is, the better
the sop. At least, that's how things have been in southern Michigan athletic
circles for 35 years that I know of, and the suspicion is that that's how they
have been everywhere forever.