The ball is
snapped, Peridore takes two steps and boots the ball hard, toeing it
gracelessly, and for a moment London thinks he has it blocked. But the kick
soars over his hand, over the helmets of his teammates and through the
uprights. EPC wins it 73--72.
jubilation. "You'd have thought we won the state championship," says
Mark Hardin. Parents run onto the field, EPC's cheerleaders hug the players,
and Gus Johnson looks as if he's trying to walk on air, leaping and bicycling
his legs. On the other sideline the Hughes players file off, consoled by the 10
or so fans who made the one-hour drive. It is a long bus ride back for Smith
and his teammates, near the end of a long season that will only get longer.
"Heartbreaking," says Smith, who not only set the state records for
touchdowns but also finished with 425 yards, the third-highest total in
Arkansas history. "It was heartbreaking."
Meek doesn't get
home until 1 a.m. because the papers kept calling him at the school's football
office, and they couldn't quite believe what they were hearing. He spent 45
minutes on the phone with the Jonesboro paper, and Nick Walker from the
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette had to call back--"Just to double check," he
said. "All of this happened in one overtime?"
For a brief
period Hughes football matters again; Hughes matters again. For a brief period
these kids are heroes. It doesn't matter that Kendric Smith lives on Cowan
Street, that Brett Hardin is undersized, that there will be no playoffs for
either team. For one moment what happened on a football field in Lepanto is the
most important thing in this little corner of the world.
getting calls from friends and family that night. Over the weekend he starts to
realize the magnitude of the record, but it doesn't fully set in until Monday
morning when Brown, his cousin, nudges him. "Wake up, Ken," Brown says.
"Look at this."
And there on the
TV is footage of Smith from the EPC game, taken by a Jonesboro TV station. Not
on local TV, on ESPN. "Hey, congrats to Kendric Smith," the anchor is
saying. "You hear about this one? He's a running back out of Hughes High
School in Hughes, Arkansas. Friday night he scored nine touchdowns including
one in overtime." Smith can't believe it.
The next week he
gets calls from Arkansas State and Central Arkansas. Their coaches want to talk
to the kid who scored nine touchdowns. Then a reporter from Newsday in New York
City calls, wanting to impose a Friday Night Lights narrative on Smith's feat.
Kids come up to him in the hallways at school, want to shake his hand, all for
a game that Hughes lost. And that's the part no one can comprehend.
"Everybody wanted to know the same thing," says London. "How does
your running back score nine touchdowns and you lose?"
quite believe it either. "I've been coaching for 38 years, and I've never
gone 0-fer," he says. "Of course, the year that I do, now we have to
get the attention." Still, he appreciates what Smith's record means to
Hughes. The program might be dying, but it won't go quietly. "That might
have been the last hurrah," Wright says, "but it was one hell of a
Over in Lepanto,
Brett Hardin sees the ESPN footage too. He first gets calls, then letters and
cards from his distant relatives. People are in awe. "My friends down in
Marked Tree were mad," says Hardin. "They're like 8--1, the best team
around, and we're getting all the attention."
doesn't change much at EPC. Kids don't suddenly come out for the team. The
Warriors don't go on a winning streak, as they would in a Disney movie. There
is talk of the talented junior high kids coming up next season, of how the
program will regenerate. Still, going into the final game of the year, senior
night against division powerhouse Barton High, EPC is 1--8. Some people at
school joke that this promises to be such a blowout that they shouldn't even
play the game.