The Game of the Century

David Epps's picture

It was a cold Friday night in November. Two high school teams were about to take the field in the last regular game of the season.

One of the teams had experienced a terribly disappointing year. During their first nine games, they had suffered defeat in eight of them. Their only win came over a team that had a worse record than they did.

The opposing team was play-off bound and had a history of being a formidable team.

Thus did the McIntosh Chiefs (1-8-0) of Peachtree City host the Newnan Cougars (6-3-0). The year was 1989.

My wife and I gamely took our places in the home stadium, loaded with blankets, glad the season was about to end.

Our oldest son, Jason, wearing #50, was about to end a four-year high school career and, after experiencing so many losses, we just hoped the game would end with some sort of dignity and that our son would not be injured in his last game.

Of course, the fact that this game was against Newnan, who would face Morrow the following week in the Regional Semifinal Playoffs, put a damper on any hopes of dignity.

Our son was an offensive tackle but he also saw a lot of action as a defensive player. He would be in for a long, grueling night.

The kickoff ensued and Newnan scored three touchdowns, missing the extra points. McIntosh scored a single touchdown and halftime came. The score was 18-7 in favor of Newnan.

I turned to my wife and said, “I wish the game could end right now. It’s a loss but at least the score is close. Well, not close but it’s not a stomp.”

But something was happening during the halftime break. The boys of McIntosh looked at each other and one of them voiced what several had been thinking: “We can beat these guys.”

I suspect that, in the other locker room, the Cougars thought they had the game won and were looking ahead to the playoffs. If so, it was a bad mistake.

The McIntosh Chiefs, clad in green jerseys and silver pants, seemed to have a new energy, an expectant enthusiasm. There was an intensity that was palpable. I picked it up as I watched the drills and then as they took the field.

The Cougars, by contrast, were relaxed, laughing, and having a grand time.

I left the home side and went to the other side and stood on the sideline behind the Newnan team to take photos of my son in his last game.

Even when McIntosh scored, and the lead narrowed to 18-13, the only people on the Newnan team that seemed to be alarmed were the coaches. They yelled at the kids, screamed that they hadn’t won yet, and that was a whole half to play.

“Hey, Coach, it’s only McIntosh!”

Yet the McIntosh defense held. The teams exchanged the ball several times when, late in the game, McIntosh scored again.

With only a few minutes left in the game, McIntosh led 19-18.

Suddenly, the Newnan team realized the seriousness of their situation ... they couldn’t allow themselves to be beaten by a 1-8 team.

The Cougar leaders rallied their team and with fans on both sides of the stadium screaming at the players on the field, Newnan began to march downfield.

Five yards here. Eight yards there. Around two minutes to go and Newnan was pushing toward the end zone.

Never have I screamed and shouted as I did that night. But Newnan still advanced toward the goal line.

The play was called, the team broke the huddle, and the Newnan quarterback settled under the center. The ball was snapped and the Newnan receivers headed downfield. A pass play!

They were headed toward the end zone. The quarterback dropped back, turned, and prepared to fire a touchdown strike.

It was then that a green- and silver-clad player blasted through the offensive line and smashed into the quarterback just as he released the ball. The ball took off like a duck shot in flight, wobbly and failing.

A McIntosh defensive back snagged the ball and ended the drive. The Chiefs ran out the clock and the impossible had happened.

Just to be sure, I looked at the scoreboard which read, Home — 19. Visitors — 18. The stands erupted!

Counting junior high, high school, and the military, I played football for eight seasons. I had never cried at a game. Until that night.

By the reaction of the McIntosh fans, one would have thought they won the state championship.

As far as I was concerned, it was the game of the century. It was my game of the century at least.

The player who had broken through the line, slammed into the quarterback, and forced the interception was #50.

Even today, 24 years later, we sometimes talk about that game. Jason went on to be named Offensive Lineman of the Year and played football on a scholarship at Olivet Nazarene University.

Newnan lost to Morrow 21-0 in the playoffs the next week. I always wondered if the McIntosh game had any influence on that loss.

Those who were Newnan freshmen in 1989 would go on over the next three years to amass a 27-7-0 record.

McIntosh had never before and would never again defeat Newnan (although Newnan forfeited all of its games in 2001 even though it won over the Chiefs on the field by a score of 34-22).

Last week, I attended a McIntosh game. This year the Chiefs are, at this writing 6-1-0 and a team that is dangerous.

I love and have always loved high school football. But however many games I see, I will always remember my personal game of the century when, in 1989, on a cold night in Georgia, a battered and beaten team found its heart.

And David beat Goliath.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.]

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