This story originally ran on November 12, 2010

When coach Brad Green began the season with twenty players on his roster, he was not overly concerned.  He had been football coach at Mountain View High for two decades now, and dealing with the challenges of building a football team from the small student body was old hat.  There were never many bench warmers on the Mountain View teams – players were rotated into the game to allow every player to have a handful of plays off during the course of the game.

When four of his players were suspended from school for a fight on school grounds, coach Green was a bit more concerned.  During their one week suspension, they could not participate in any extra-curricular activities – even football.  Coach Green was looking at a matchup against Central Valley with sixteen players.

The latest blow came on Friday, when a nasty bout of the flu knocked four more players out of commission.  With just twelve players traveling to the game, the coach wondered if it was even necessary to take a bus.

Bad news comes in threes, they say, and the third event struck just before game time.  As the Tigers were practicing, two wide receivers collided on a passing route.  Ken Jarrett and Kevin Matthews were both tough kids, and it was a very bad sign when they didn’t get up after the play.  Green had seen the injuries many times before – Jarrett had a broken leg and Matthews had fractured his arm.  With ten players on the team, the coach was wondering whether to just forfeit the game and take his kids home.

“Are they going to be OK, coach?”

Green looked up into the face of Amy Marx, one of the cheerleaders.

“Afraid not, Amy.  Neither of those guys will be able to play.”

“Geez.  You’ve lost a lot of players this week.  Aren’t you a man short now?”

“Yep, we’re down to ten,” replied Coach Green.  “Could make for some big plays for the opposition.”

“I’ll suit up, coach!”

“Not going to happen.”

“What have you go to lose?  Split me out as a receiver and have me play defensive back.  It has to be better than playing with ten players, right?”

“Are you sure?”

“I have four older brothers.  I can hold my own with the big boys.”

Fifteen minutes later, Amy was lined up at cornerback for the Tigers.   Central Valley picked on her immediately.  The receiver caught the ball, faked her out of her shoes, and raced up the sideline for a touchdown.  The game was not half a minute old and they were down 7-0.

The Central Valley kicker boomed the kickoff out of the end zone for a touchback.  The Tigers huddled up at the twenty yard line.

“OK, first play goes to Amy,” announced quarterback Matt Ford.  “Don’t worry, Marx, we’ll pick you up.”  The QB gave her a slap on the rear to drive home the point – and then flushed with embarrassment when he realized what he had done.

“Sorry, Amy.  Didn’t mean to do that – just reflex.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she replied.  “I’m just one of the guys tonight.”

Amy caught the pass for a split second before a smashing hit from the Central Valley defender separated her from the ball.  She lay on the field for a moment, catching her breath.

“Oh, look.  Barbie’s hurt.  Did you break a nail, honey?”  He laughed and turned back toward his teammates.  Amy immediately jumped up and gave him a hard shove in the back.

The referee’s whistle tweeted to announce a penalty.  “Unsportsmanlike conduct, number eighty four on the offense.  Half the distance to the goal line.  Second down.”

Amy cursed herself for making another dumb play.  Two running plays and a short pass completion made up some of the yardage, but the Tigers faced a 4th down and 8 from their own 22 yard line.  Coach Green decided to give her another shot – having the longtime soccer player line up at punter.  She caught the ball and gave it a powerful kick.  The ball traveled forty eight yards in the air and picked up another ten with a friendly bounce before rolling out of bounds at the Central Valley twenty yard line.

Amy felt a surge of confidence as she lined up on the defensive side of the ball.  Once again, the QB threw the ball in her direction, testing her after the earlier TD.  This time, Amy jumped the route and deflected the ball.  Linebacker Jeff Miller snagged the ball in mid-air and raced into the end zone for the tying score.

By halftime, nearly everyone in the stadium had forgotten that there was a girl playing for Mountain View.  Amy felt the game slow down a bit for her.  On the offensive side of the ball she had made three short catches and had done a serviceable job of blocking for the running game.  On the defensive side of the ball, she was the leading tackler – not because she was the best player, but because Central Valley continued to pick on her.  Amy enjoyed delivering the blows and bringing down the ball carrier to stop a drive.

The game continued to be tight in the second half, and with forty two seconds left in the game, Central Valley was clinging to a 31-28 lead.  The Tigers had the ball, but faced a long field – eighty yards away from pay dirt.  Matt Ford huddled up the troops.

“OK, Barbie Doll’s going deep on this one.”  Amy smiled at the joking reference to the defender’s comment earlier in the game.  She split out wide to the right and waited for the snap.

Amy caught the ball at the thirty five yard line.  The defender stood just a few steps down the field, ready to make the tackle.  She faked right before cutting to the left, leaving the defender in her wake.  She turned on the afterburners and displayed the raw speed that had won her the 1A 100 meter dash title the previous spring.  Nobody touched her until she was in the end zone – and then it was her entire team piling on top of her to celebrate the touchdown.

With gallons of adrenaline pulsing through her veins, Amy sailed the kickoff out of the end zone.  Central Valley still had time on the clock, but the fight had gone out of them.  Four incomplete passes later, and the game was over – Amy Marx had led the Tigers to a most improbable win.

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Kosmo is the founder of The Soap Boxers and writes on a variety of topics. Many of his short stories have been collected into Kindle books.

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