With only an
injury-hobbled Three Rivers left on the schedule, it seems all but certain that
Vicksburg will end up with a 7-2 record for the second year in a row and again
will be co-champions of their league. Martens is pleased at the prospect of
such fine back-to-back seasons. The seniors are equally happy to have made
their point—to have shown that in their own rowdy, laughing way they are as
successful as the model student-athletes of the year before. As the season
winds down, there is a lot of good feeling among the coaches and players, many
of whom are beginning to think about winter sports. Steve Hunt is looking
forward to wrestling again, and Schutter and Noel are getting ready for
basketball. Mike Blough, the easy-going assistant coach, is also preparing for
basketball, having agreed to act as temporary head coach for one year because
the previous basketball coach has unexpectedly left for a job in another state.
Blough, a guidance counselor, had been head football coach for 10 years before
voluntarily resigning. He says his attitude toward competitive sports changed
during his head-coaching tenure.
"I had got to
the point," he says, "where I wanted to tell the kids that sometimes we
were going to meet bigger, better teams, and when we did, no matter how much we
wanted it otherwise, we were going to get beat, and it wouldn't be any great
disaster. But a coach can't say that or even feel that way and keep a program
going. Or, at least, we don't think we can.
another thing, just an incident. I felt very proud of the work I did with one
kid because I thought I had helped him mature and settle down. In a way, he was
my prize. He got an athletic grant to a fairly good college for football. He
was there six months, got messed up with dope and some bad friends, was cut
from the football team, dropped out of school and got into trouble. All the
coaching and counseling, the best I thought I had ever done, didn't change
things. That really shook me.
"I still love
the game and I like helping Bruce. It's a good game. It gives some of the kids
a lot of pleasure and excitement, which is probably the best thing about it.
But I guess I've lost my faith that it is the end-all and be-all."
general air of self-congratulation does not please Rick Jensen, who has a bad
ankle and is still coughing from his cold. "All those guys talking about
our great season," he says irritably. "Those turkeys from Three Rivers
could clean us. They got a runner who is very decent. In track he won the
hurdles last year. I'm sure not going to catch him if he gets a step, and if he
gets past the line we'll try to dance with him, and he'll dance right
past." As he so often is, Jensen is right again. The speedy Three Rivers
back dances. Jensen does not play as well as usual. Nobody tackles or blocks
very well. At halftime Vicksburg trails by two touchdowns.
Bruce Martens is
forced out of his go-easy approach. "There's no point talking about plays
or blocking assignments." he tells the team scornfully during halftime.
"They are beating you one-on-one. Their tackles are beating our tackles.
Their guards are firing off harder than ours are. Their linebackers are beating
our runners. You guys are being handled. Forget all that last-game crap, and go
out there and play football instead of thinking about it."
The analysis and
advice are sound, but they do no good. Vicksburg sinks further into disarray.
Among other things, the antagonism between Cree and Jensen flares into the
open. When Chip explains why he missed a block. Jensen barks at him.
"I told him
to quit talking to me," says Jensen afterwards. "In fact, I told him
not to talk to me ever anymore." Only Noel is immune to the general
peevishness, insisting to the coaches, to Jeff Schutter, to everyone, that if
somebody will just get the ball to him deep he'll catch it and turn the game
It is a raw,
bitter night with snow and mud on the field. Schutter is having a terrible time
of it. Often he cannot pass when he wants to, and when he can he passes weakly
for incompletions or interceptions. The shocked Vicksburg rooters, who had
expected to celebrate the conclusion of a triumphant season, begin to jeer at
Schutter and chant, "We want Hughey. We want Hughey."
Randy Hughey is a
junior quarterback who can throw farther than Schutter but has played behind
him because the senior is a better runner, better signal caller, better
all-round leader. Martens finally orders Hughey to warm up, puts him in the
game and takes out Schutter, who spends the last minutes of his high school
career alone at the end of the bench with his head down, covered by a hood.