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It is a frigid October night, and the fans who arrive with blankets and hot chocolate are there out of dogged loyalty; by halftime it is a rout, Barton up 41--14. At the end of the third quarter the game is over for all practical purposes. The EPC band plays just to keep warm, boys in the stands practice their duck calls, students slip off into the night.
Those who do leave early will wish they hadn't. Down on the EPC sideline, word of something unusual begins to circulate: Goose is going into the game. With 5:55 remaining in the fourth, and EPC down 58--14, Meek grabs Johnson by the shoulder pads. "All right, Goose, you're going to get the ball, and when you do, I want you take it straight to the house, you understand me?" Johnson nods, then jumps up and down, waving his arms to get loose.
It takes a second for the crowd to realize what's happening, but when they do, a murmur goes through the stands. Goose is in!
The ball is snapped, Johnson takes the handoff at his own 25 and starts running ... straight to the sideline, right at the EPC coaches, who worry he might sprint straight out-of-bounds. Instead, slowly but surely, he begins making a wide arc, turning up field. Of course, he's running a sweep! And then he's off, chugging down the sideline, a convoy of EPC blockers in front, a host of Barton defenders running alongside, somehow knowing how fast they have to run to make it look as if they might tackle Goose. (The Barton coach had heard about Gus Johnson, that this was his final home game.)
Goose hits the 50, the 40, then the 30, and now the crowd is up and yelling, the EPC subs sprinting after him down the sideline. As Johnson charges into the end zone the P.A. announcer roars as if he's Telestrating the apocalypse: "TOUCHDOOOOWWWWN, WARRRIORRRS! GUS JOHHHHHHNSON ON THE CARRY!"
In the stands some are crying, others are laughing. Mark Hardin is pointing at Goose, who for once doesn't see him because he's getting mobbed by cheerleaders. The EPC players are jumping and high-fiving. Sophomore wide receiver Bryant Woodson says to no one in particular, "Man, I'll remember that for the rest of my life."
He's not the only one. EPC loses 58--22, but nobody cares. Johnson is carried off the field, people slapping him on the back. Assistant coach Josh Hill can't stop smiling. "That made the whole season bearable," he says. In the locker room Gus struts around, jersey off, in just his pants and those giant shoulder pads, and what he keeps saying, over and over, is "Can't nobody stop the Goose!"
Since it's the Warriors' final game, they pile their jerseys in the middle of the floor, as if building a mesh funeral pyre. Johnson doesn't comprehend the magnitude of the moment for his fellow seniors, doesn't understand that there is something profound and melancholy about the end to any boy's high school career, an unspoken understanding that, for most of them, sports will now change in a fundamental way--from being the watched to doing the watching. Big Cody Brown, the senior tackle, understands this, and he breaks down in tears.
One by one, they file out, saying their goodbyes to one another. Goose is escorted out by his older brother, Jeff, who announces, "We're going to go home and watch SportsCenter because Gus is going to be on it all night." After thanking coach Meek for a good season, Brett Hardin leaves with his dad.
Fifty miles away, in Hughes, Kendric Smith and his teammates are doing the same thing, turning in their jerseys, heading home, moving on from football.