We were down by two touchdowns with less than four minutes left in the game.
With a new coach and recovering from a losing season last year, we never expected the high school football team to play for the district championship in Elder’s senior year. But we were. And we were losing.
Which was too bad, as the game had started promising enough. At halftime, we were up, 19-7.
Then lots of things happened in the second half. Some our fault, some not as much.
Some of the kids from the team we had beaten the previous week had joined our crowd of fans, as we were playing their rival, who they hated more than us. Actually, our teams had a lot of respect for each other, on and off the field. Even Younger had only praise, and he can usually find at least one example of obnoxious behavior by the other team.
Since the young men sat around and behind us, my husband had to talk to them. (My husband has to talk to anyone within a twelve foot radius.) And at one point, he mentioned, “Number — is my son.”
“Number — ?” one of the kids repeated. “He’s a stud.”
Of course, I grinned.
And my husband had to add, “He’s not caught anything tonight. But, last week, he caught two touchdowns.”
The boys looked at him with half grins and assured him, “Yeah, we remember.” Then they laughed.
But it was cold and as we surrendered that last touchdown, they gave up their hope of watching their rival fall. Slowly, they meandered down the bleachers.
Two touchdowns with less than four minutes is quite a hill to climb, especially as part of our problem in the second half was interceptions.
I sat on the bleachers, reminding myself that Elder and his team had had a good season for their senior year. Better than expected. I tried to appreciate the blessing.
I wanted to cry.
Then, for some reason, our opponents’ coach had his boys fake a punt on fourth and long. While they were inside their own ten yard line. For those who don’t understand football, I’ll explain — that’s madness.
Elder tackled the running back at the eight yard line. We now had the ball and only eight yards to cross to score a touchdown.
It took us one down.
And just like that, we were down one touchdown with three minutes left on the clock.
Our defense stopped them in three downs. And their coach decided to stick to a real punt. They pinned us inside our own five yard line. To be specific, we were on the two yard line.
We had 1:44 on the clock.
And in four plays we had another touchdown.
Tied!! We were tied!
Our hearts were thumping nearly out of our chests. Our opponent’s rival football team wandered back into the stands. I was peeking through gloved fingers.
Our defense just had to hold them one more time for us to go to overtime.
Our defensive line showed their stuff. And we showed our appreciation.
In other words, the crowd went wild.
During overtime, each team gets the ball on the 25-yard line. Each has a chance to navigate those twenty-five yards into the end zone.
We were given the first opportunity. A couple run plays…and touchdown!!
Our opponents did not even make a first down. On the fourth down, one of our seniors intercepted a last, desperate pass by their quarterback.
Our boys leapt into the air. The other boys hit the field on their knees.
I’ve always found the juxtaposition of winners and losers on a championship field of play particularly heartbreaking.
But then all of the parents and fans rushed for our boys in the closest end zone. And Elder locked eyes with me and hurried to wrap me in a bear hug, holding onto me for, like, ever.
When your kids are small, those moments of connection are almost commonplace. You are their world. You are the first one they look for. You make the bad bearable and the good complete.
Those moments scatter in the wind as they grow older. Mothers are always the world to their children. I know, because my mom was always the world to me. But the moments of pure, unadulterated connection — those moments become more rare and even more precious.
And I held this young man, who is now taller than me but is still my baby, in my arms and thanked God for my blessings.
Elder had three sacks, seventeen tackles with ten being unassisted, and one fumble recovery.
But the moment I’ll always remember is him bending towards me, my arms struggling to encircle shoulder pads, while he murmured, “I am so happy.”
Football is just a game. Win or lose, life goes on.
But those moments…
Those moments are life.