It's tough on the
parents, too. Cody Brown is a senior, a big kid with a goatee, and this wasn't
how he expected his final year to play out. His grandfather owns Fat Daddy's
BBQ, the red roadside truck where $6.50 gets you a BBQ plate and a Coke. His
mom, Karen, runs it on Fridays but makes sure to close by 6 p.m. to get to the
game. She says all the losing hasn't changed how the boys play. "They're
going balls to the wall out there," she says.
there has been for EPC usually traces back to Gus Johnson. Gus, or Goose as he
calls himself, is 5'3" and weighs 120 pounds with a full stomach. He
dresses but never plays. He does, however, engage in elaborate stretching
routines during games--that is, when he's not excitedly yelling and pointing at
the crowd. Johnson is developmentally delayed; everyone in town just calls him
"special." "He's one of those kids, always happy, always got a
smile," says Meek. "Football's probably one of the only times he gets
into a regular environment with the other kids, because he has the special-ed
In four years
Johnson has missed one day of school, and that was for a funeral. He has been
to every junior high game as a fan and seen every varsity game from the
sidelines. In practice he goes through all the blocking and tackling drills. On
the scout team Meek lets him play safety, where he's least likely to get
Goose was as animated as ever. He pointed to Mark Hardin, Brett's father, who
usually returns the salute from the stands, but for once his eyes were on the
field. "It was different," says Mark. "We knew this was our only
chance." On the sideline Meek knew it too. It's one thing to rebuild a
program and take some lumps, another to preside over the first winless season
in school history. He paced, frowning.
3:36 to play
combined points the Warriors take their first lead of the game, at 66--60, on a
Hardin touchdown toss. Though the game is 3 1/2 hours old, fans are not leaving
... and more are arriving. Some locals got word of what was happening, and they
drove over, cheering as they climbed into the bleachers.
is short-lived: Soon after, Smith sweeps left to tie the score at 66--66. Over
the loudspeaker an announcement is made: "Kendric Smith has just scored his
eighth touchdown of the game. That ties the Arkansas state record."
The score stays
tied, and the two teams head into overtime--in which each team gets four downs
to score from the 10-yard line. Hughes gets the ball first. Smith runs once,
twice, three times and finally, on fourth down, wriggles through the right side
of the line for his ninth touchdown, breaking the record. Hughes goes for two,
running 93 Wrong Way again, but this time Smith is stopped short, gang-tackled
out-of-bounds. It's 72--66.
On EPC's third
play in overtime, Hardin scores on a two-yard run--he's now accounted for 10
touchdowns running, returning or passing--and the Warriors players prepare to
go for two. Except there's Meek, on the sideline, calling for one. Suddenly,
it's Joe Peridore's moment.
Four hours of
play and it comes down to this. Lucas London, the big tackle on Hughes--a kid
who volunteered to be team manager in the fourth grade, who has yet to win a
varsity game--takes his place on the line. "I figured if I could just get
to the middle, I might get a hand on it," London says. If anybody could
block the kick, it would be the Blue Devils' biggest player.