Saturday, September 7, 2013

Un - Pleasant - ries

Week 2 of the 2013 season brought the Pleasant Valley Raiders to Harlen Robinson Stadium on Friday night to open region play.

Just a few years ago, PV was known for losing streaks. They broke a 13 game streak in 1997 with a win over Bibb Graves High School. From 2003-2006, the Raiders lost 31 in a row. In their 32 seasons of playing football, PV has an all-time record of 82-229. But, they're getting better. In the last three seasons combined, the Raiders have won 12 games. Last season saw PV's largest margin of victory (55 pts) in school history. But the only statistic that mattered to the Ranburne faithful this week was the Dogs' 20-19 loss to the Raiders last season, a loss that effectively kept RHS out of the playoffs. The Ranburne fans showed up Friday night looking for a little revenge.

The Dogs took the opening kickoff, but fumbled on the first play from scrimmage. PV took advantage of the turnover and put 6 on the board, missing wide right on a PAT attempt. On their second possession, the offense got in their own way again with a pre-snap penalty on the first play. After starting 1st and 15, the Dogs were forced to punt.

After a stop by the Ranburne D, the offense began their 3rd possession at the PV 17 late in the first. This time they were able to put together a series of first downs and found themselves facing 4th and 2 from their own 9 yard line, down by 6 as the first quarter ended. 

QB Wiggins handed off to G.W. Caldwell to open the 2nd. Caldwell was met at the line but drove forward, collecting white jerseys and dragging them into the end zone. Touchdown Ranburne! The PAT was blocked, tying the score at 6. 

Both teams traded possessions without scoring. Then, PV mounted a drive and put 6 more on the scoreboard with 1:14 remaining in the half. The Raiders took the lead, but the dog fight was starting to wear on them. It was on this drive that I noticed a few of their players taking extra shots after the whistle. One in particular couldn't get off the ground without shoving our defender back into the grass. They seemed to gain a little momentum and some attitude to go with it.

But, the half wasn't over. Dylan Tullis took the kickoff all the way down to the PV 6 yard line. Two offsides penalties by the Raiders, 2 Ranburne timeouts, and 4 snaps later, the Dogs got into the end zone again for 6. A failed two-point conversion attempt sent both teams to the locker room tied at 12. 

I imagine the discussion the the visitors' locker room sounded something like this: "We get the ball first. Let's run it right at them, right up the middle, until they stop us." 

To open the 2nd half, PV handed the ball off up the middle for a 1st down, then again for another, and a third time for a TD. And when they got the ball back after a Bulldog punt, they handed it off again. This time, the back was met by a purple jersey for a 1 yd loss. 

It was definitely a dog fight. Neither team willing to yield. Neither team playing perfectly but doing what they had to in order to stay in the game. Several times, I thought our boys might be ready to lay down. They were hot. They were exhausted. But they never lost their cool. They still had some fight in them. So did the Raiders, but it was a slightly different kind of fight. 

They were overly nasty, but if you paid attention you could see it. It was in the way a PV defender clapped his hands in the face of a Ranburne Offensive lineman flagged for holding. It was in the way that their QB threw the ball in the face mask of the Bulldog player that hauled him down on a running play. And while those seem like little things, they could add up to something big. It has to do with sportsmanship.

Football is a violent, physical test of strength and will. I can only imagine how hard it is to keep your head on straight out there. But you have to. Players and coaches have to. You can't let things get to you. You have to respect the opposing team if you respect the game. It's not personal. Go at each other between the whistles. But when the game is over, you're all the same. 

Sportsmanship is on the forefront of our minds in Alabama this week in the wake of the post-game, sideline brawl between coaches at Walker and Cullman High Schools last week. And I believe the Walker coach said it best in his address to his former team: 

"You know that sportsmanship comes before the passion and emotions of the game." 

Sports can bring out the best and worst in people. I was proud of the sportsmanship and maturity displayed by the boys in purple last night. They weren't baited into fights by the other players. They didn't react or retaliate. They didn't have time; there was a game to win. And while the PV players showed a little frustration, they handled themselves respectably under the pressure.

When the clock hit zero, the teams were tied at 26. PV won the toss and elected to play defense first in OT. Two snaps later, Ranburne was in for 6. Kicker Jake Howle's PAT was good. 
The Ranburne sideline celebrates the OT win

But, it only took the Raiders 2 snaps to answer. PV had had all they wanted and decided to end the game right then by going for 2. Their QB took the snap and rolled left. He had nothing but green in front of him. He raced toward the end zone, but Devin Rehburg and Dalton Wiggins came from nowhere and met him on the 1. The 2-point conversion had failed. The game was over. Ranburne 33, PV 32.

Both teams and their coaches met at mid field for prayer. And as the Raiders headed to their dressing room, they were met by a crowd of Ranburne fans patting them on their backs, congratulating their efforts, wishing them luck. Sportsmanship, see. Remembering that those opponents you wanted to beat so badly on the field are just kids, like our kids, when the final play has ended. Despite the loss, they'd played hard. They deserved our respect. 

I overheard a PV cheerleader complain as she exited the field, rolling her eyes,  "Is all THIS really necessary?" This? This crowd of people waiting here to congratulate their team and yours? This display of respect and admiration and appreciation of these young men who had battled it out over the last 3 hours? This celebration of a hard-fought victory?

I wanted to say, "Yes, young lady, it absolutely is. And you'd do well to remember that."

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