This was to be a post centered around Peoria Centennial High School’s 40th consecutive win and continued quest for the school’s fourth consecutive state football title. Except the fates intervened, and the Coyotes fell to the Tempe Marcos de Niza Padres 16-14 Friday night on a chilly evening at North Canyon High School.
My vantage point was one I’d never enjoyed in the 26 years I’ve haunted high school football sidelines as a statistician, reporter and announcer. Most people who see me these days assume I played high school football myself; the trust is that at 5-foot-6 and 140 pounds, there wasn’t much for me to do outside of serving as a blocking dummy.
Thanks to Kevin Spicer, who is an agent in my office and also the quarterbacks coach at Centennial, I was able to see what I’d always been watching but from places I’d never dare venture – standing on the 50-yard-line during warmups, joining the team in the locker room pregame and at halftime and walking the sidelines without having to worry about the getback coaches yelling at me to get behind the line.
Sitting in the locker room before the game, you quickly realize the coaches’ speeches are less about the content and more about the delivery. Spend a season rampaging in front of the players and they’re bound to tune you out. But deliver the right message in a quiet, deliberate tone, only raising the volume for effect, and the impact is lasting. After listening to Coach Kyle Pooler deliver his speech, I found myself looking for pads to strap on.
The sidelines are organized chaos and in almost everything that takes place there is an underlying lesson these young men can carry with them into later life – accountability, teamwork, leadership, sacrifice. I always will maintain no sport builds character in young men like wrestling; football is high on the list as well, if only because on star can’t carry the load by himself. Without the help of others, nothing works.
As I mentioned, the ending wasn’t at all what the Coyotes expected. Marcos de Niza didn’t have more talent but they were disciplined and made far fewer mistakes than Centennial. And there’s a lesson in that as well – pure talent can’t always compensate for the errors we all make, no matter what the venture.
What was most striking, though, was the eerie silence on the sideline when the final pass was intercepted and Centennial’s final drive was ended. Sure, there was cheering and celebrating on the Marcos sideline. Though only 58 yards away, it could have been 58 miles. On the Coyotes sideline and in the stands, almost nothing could be heard when the clock hit 0:00. It was if all the air had disappeared from that side of the field.
It was an unfamiliar feeling. Centennial had not lost a game since 2007 and they had been perfect in 2006 as well. Losing a game is an almost unheard of concept.
Except it does happen. And it’s in adverse situations such as this the character grows. For the seniors, it’s what they will carry with them to college. And for the rest, it’s almost certain memories of this night – and the silence at the end – will drive them further a year from now.