John Scherer could hear the impact of the collision from his seat on the bench.  He knew in an instant that Carson Malone would not return to the game.

“Scherer!” snapped head coach Art Saunders.  But there was no need to bark at him – John had already grabbed a football and was warming up.

When Carson Malone was carried off the field, the crowd grew silent.  The undefeated Tigers were assured of a bowl berth – but a win against the Dragons had the potential of punching their ticket to the national championship game.

The offense that was centered around the golden arm of Carson Malone had sputtered for much of the day, and the Tigers were clinging to a tenuous 17-16 lead against the Dragons.  The Dragons defense was stout against the run, and the only way to beat them was through the arm.  Could the spaghetti-armed Scherer get the ball downfield consistently?  In four years on the team, he had only gotten into a handful of games during garbage time and had done little to impress the coaching staff.

The afternoon sun had begun to descend into the horizon beyond Buck Miller stadium when Scherer broke from the huddle and settled in behind the center.  A moment later, the ball had been snapped and Scherer dropped back into the pocket.  He quickly spotted an open receiver and delivered a quick, tight spiral in the direction of Quentin Snow.  An instant later, he saw a flash of green as Dragons cornerback Carlton Jacobs jumped the route and snatched the ball before it reached Snow.  The All-American defensive back was past Scherer in a second and took the ball to the house without being touched.  The PAT made the score 23-17 in favor of the Dragons.

Quentin Snow returned the ensuing kickoff to the 38 yard line.  John Scherer settled the butterflies in his stomach and summoned the fortitude necessary to lead his team to victory.  A quick toss to Snow gave the Tigers a first down just shy of midfield.  Scherer hit his tight end over the middle for six yards.  A screen pass netted another ten yards.  Quentin Snow slipped past his defender and took the ball to the twenty one yard line.  After a sack, Scherer settled back in and hit tight end Rudolph Mauser at the ten.  A quick strike to Snow in the end zone capped off the scoring drive.

Adrenaline surged though Scherer’s veins as he grabbed some Gatorade and talked to the coaches on the phone.  Man, he had rocked on that drive – six completions in six attempts.  He hadn’t executed a drive that well since middle school.

The quick strike had demoralized the Dragons.  The Tigers defense forced a  three-and-out.  This time, Quentin Snow settled under the punt and called for a fair catch at the thirty yard line.  With a 24-23 lead, the Tigers simply needed to sustain a drive and let the clock run out.

Scherer found Mauser open downfield and the big tight end rumbled toward midfield.  It was a critical first down for the Tigers.  One more first down, and the game would be over.  Coach Saunders was conservative on the next two plays, handing the ball off to tailback Lawrence McGee.  Mac gain four yards on first down, but was thrown back for a two yard loss on second down, as half the Dragons defense converged on him in the backfield.

The ball was at the Tigers 48 yard line.  It was third down, with a long eight yards needed to make the first down and put the game out of reach.  A failure to execute on this play would force the Tigers to punt the ball back to the Dragons.

Scherer took the snap from center and quickly progressed through his reads.  Quentin Snow was double teamed.  Mauser was being covered effectively by a linebacker.  Tailback Lawrence McGee was open in the flat, and Scherer quickly delivered the ball.  McGee stumbled as he approached the ball.  The throw was a bit high, and McGee was only able to get his fingertips on the ball – tipping it into the air.

John Scherer groaned as he saw a flash of green near the ball.  Once again, Carlton Jacobs was in the middle of the play.  Jacobs gathered the ball at the Dragons forty yard line and set sail for pay dirt, sixty yards away.

Quentin Snow was one of the few players in the league who had better speed than Jacobs.  By the time they reach the twenty yard line, they were abreast of each other.  Jacobs made a quick fake, and Snow sailed past him and was out of position.  A moment later, Jacobs raised the ball in celebration as he cruised toward the end zone.

At the last moment, a hand slapped the ball away.  Jacobs quickly tracked the ball down and attempted to corral it … but it eluded his grasp and exited the back of the end zone.

As the official made the signal for a touchback – awarding the ball back to the Tigers at the twenty yard line – John Scherer sat in the end zone catching his breath.

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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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