We present a special Wednesday edition of Fiction Friday.

“Remember – twelve and half.”

Buck Schroeder nodded his head and left the diner. He slipped the envelope into the pocket of his jeans as he walked to the parking lot. Half now, half after the game – the same as last year. The money was begging to be spent, so he jumped in his jeep and drove to the electronics store, where he dropped a couple of c-notes on some DVD box sets he’d been wanting to buy.

He took his girlfriend Dana out for supper at one of the better steak houses in town. Buck loved the start of football season. Not only did it allow him to be the big man on campus, but the money from the payoffs helped him live a better lifestyle than he could afford in the off season.

Buck fell asleep that night reading his playbook. This was a critical early season test for the Jackals. The Cougars were much improved from last year. It was even possible that Buck wouldn’t have to shave any points to keep the margin of victory below the Vegas line of 12 ½ points.

The next morning, Schroeder headed to the dorm’s soundproof music room and hammered out a few tunes on the piano. It was a tradition that dated back to junior high, and it had served him well. There was nothing like a bit of Beethoven to get his competitive juices flowing.

Buck joined his team for pregame breakfast and indulged another ritual, scarfing down four eggs, three slices of toasts, two large glasses of orange juice, and seventeen slices of bacon. Although the medical community was skeptical about the energizing power of bacon, Schroeder was a true believer.

Before long, the Jackals were taking the field in front of a raucous crowd at Morgan Memorial Stadium. Down on the field, Buck could feel the vibrations emanating from the fans inside the great bowl of the stadium. The fans sensed the importance of the game.

The Jackals received the opening kickoff. Buck dissected the Cougar defense, completing all seven passes on the drive, eventually hitting Nate Gustafson on a fade route in the corner of the end zone for the first score of the game. The scored remained 7-0 until the first drive of the second quarter, when Jackals scatback Troy Maddux found the end zone from twelve yards away to put the Jackals up by two touchdowns.

The Cougars drove deep into Jackals territory on the next drive, before faltering toward the end and settling for a short field goal. The Cougars once again drove into Jackals territory late in the second quarter. The clock became their enemy, and they eventually had to call a timeout and bring on their field goal kicker for a an impossibly long 59 yard field goal – which he promptly drilled right between uprights to draw the Cougars to within 14-6 as the first half clock elapsed.

Schroeder hooked up with speedy wideout Sean Warren on a fifty yard strike early in the third quarter to put the Jackals ahead 21-6. At this point, Schroeder began to lose a bit of touch on his passes, ostensibly because of a hit he absorbed from one of the Cougar defenders. In truth, however, he needed to have the Cougars pull back to within 12 ½ points.

Two Cougars field goals made the score 21-12 as the clock began ticking down in the fourth quarter. Buck needed only to manage the game a bit in order to win the game while also keeping the winning margin below the point spread. On a third and ten from the fifty yard line, he threw an inaccurate pass in the general vicinity of Nate Gustafson. A stunned Schroeder watched as Gustafson adjusted his route as the ball was thrown, apparently sensing that the ball would be thrown too far toward the far sideline. Gustafson grabbed the ball off his shoe tops, dodged a defender, switched directions, and accelerated into high gear, leaving an army of Cougars defender in his wake.

Schroeder had difficulty watching, as the Cougars fought to get back into the game. A field goal would not do them much good at this point in the game – nor would it do much good for Schroeder, who needed to see the sixteen point lead erode by more than the value of a sole field goal.

The Cougars quarterback dinked and dunked down the field. The Cougars were inside the five yard line as precious time was eaten up. The Jackals defense held strong three times, before finally yielding on a fourth and goal from within the one yard line. The Cougars then proceeded to pound the ball back into the end zone on the two point conversion attempt.

Thirty seconds remained in the game. With the Cougars within eight points, every fan in the stadium expected an onside kick. The Jackals sent the “hands team” onto the field, and Buck breathed a sigh of relief. The Jackals simply had to recover the onside kick and then have Schroeder take a few snaps to run out the remaining clock and preserve an eight point win.

The ball popped into the air and was grabbed by reserve receiver Jeff Casey. Instead of falling to the ground to down the ball, the lead footed Casey took off down the sideline. The rest of the Jackals raced downfield to block for Casey and the senior walk-on waddled into the end zone for the first touchdown of his career.

Buck Schroeder winced as the scoreboard flashed the score of 34-20. The PAT was added to make it a fifteen point difference.

The Cougars attempted a hook-and-ladder on the ensuing kickoff, making it as far as the Jackals forty yard line before the ball carrier was tackled, ending the game, and putting Buck Schroeder’s part time job in jeopardy.

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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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