How One High School Playoff Touchdown Salvaged An Entire Program

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Nice Move

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I’ll never forget my last high school football game.

And even if I somehow do forget about what went down that fateful night, Facebook’s “On This Day” feature will continue reminding everyone of it until long after I pass. All the angry posts on my wall and in my feed — the whole town was irate. It was like something out of a movie.

It was on this day five years ago that coach called us into that huddle. You see, we were a mediocre 6-6 squad that backed its way into the state playoffs after a nearby school had to forfeit the chance to compete because first quarter grades had just been posted and half the team was no longer eligible.

We had a real chance to make some noise in our first game against top-ranked Dover High — a team with more Division I commits than regular players. Dover High was a high school football powerhouse in our state. Meanwhile, our North High team was a consistent bunch of losing pussies, with more coaching staff turnover each season than graduating seniors. But this was playoff football, and anything can happen in playoff football. Like us going down six touchdowns in the first half, which happened. As the starting free safety, I can remember just a few of those perfect spirals flying over my head for a Dover High score.

The third quarter was all Dover High again. By this time, the game was well out of reach and they were pulling their starters to rest for the second round. Dover had a 49-point lead heading into the final 12 minutes of play.

At the break between the third and fourth quarter, Coach Wells called us over for a team meeting.

“I just spoke with their head ball coach,” he told us. “He said they have a special needs boy whose dream it is to score a touchdown for Dover High. He asked us to make this boy’s dream come true.”

Ahhh, coded language, I thought. “He asked” doesn’t equal “I said yes.”

In that moment of ambiguity, Coach Wells’ message could not have been more clear.

We hustled back onto the field for the start of fourth quarter action. The special needs boy, Allen, a good 5’8″, 230 pounds, trotted into the backfield — tennis shoes laced up and bifocals shielded behind his facemask. Dover huddled to call a play, but we all knew what was coming. Maybe in another world, Allen could pass as an offensive guard. But he had no business being in that backfield.

Dover hustled to the line. Usually a spread team, they were in the I-formation — with Allen at tailback. The quarterback took the snap and tossed it to the field side for Allen, who caught it in stride. Yeah, I saw this play coming.

One of the Dover offensive linemen didn’t even bother blocking — he just started cheering for Allen and pointing in the direction of the Dover end zone. Arrogant fucking prick.

Allen was more of power guy than a speed guy. He made a solid move up field, avoiding diving defensive linemen at his feet, and made it into the secondary. One of our cornerbacks, Charlie, dove about five yards in front of Allen as he came barreling my direction. The flash of a green jersey must have startled him, because as soon as Charlie hit the turf, Allen’s fingers slipped off the ball and it came rolling my direction — coming to a stop right at my feet.

There was no correct move here. I wasn’t going to hand the ball back to Allen — he had his chance. And even if I did do that, he would know something was up. He’s been around football too long to know that a defender never returns a fumble to the ball carrier.

I picked up that Spalding leather football on our own 18-yard line and started sprinting the other direction. Dover High players were in so much shock that when they finally came to, I had about a 15-yard advantage. I’ll never forget the sound of fans on both sides of the stadium booing as I headed into our end zone — except for one small section of drunk dads on our sideline going nuts high fiving.

My first career defensive touchdown. In the high school playoffs, no less. I watched as the scoreboard changed: Dover 49, North 6.

“You are one huge fucking asshole,” said one of the referees as I tossed him the football and headed to the bench.

I turned back to the other side of the field to see the entire Dover sideline rallying around Allen as if he was the one who had scored a touchdown. Meanwhile, on my sideline, I was a pariah.

Coach Wells, whose pre-play message seemed open for interpretation, was at midfield profusely apologizing to Dover’s head coach and athletics director.

“You’re done,” he shouted at me as he ran back to the sideline.

No, you’re done you stupid piece of shit, I thought to myself. Getting your ass kicked in here and already contemplating throwing in the towel.

We didn’t score again. Dover, however, put their starters back in after my touchdown and threw the ball downfield the rest of the game — using all of their timeouts in the process. The final score was 63-6.

But the story doesn’t end there.

You see, someone tipped off the state high school athletics association that neither Allen nor his parents had filled out any of the required paperwork prior to entering the game that night. On top of that, the association also found out that Allen was 19 — well over the cut-off age for high school athletics.

The state, regretfully, had no choice but to declare Dover High ineligible for the remainder of the playoffs. They were also forced to forfeit our playoff game — allowing North High to advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in more than 20 years.

We lost the following week to Matthews High, 77-9 — in part because I was suspended the rest of the playoffs. But it didn’t matter — we had already defeated the best team in the state. In my mind, there was no doubt who the real champion was that season: North High.

I’ll never forget my senior year of high school football. It truly was something special.

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