It takes something special to lure this old, lazy editorial writer out of retirement. That was the case Friday night, as fans at the Scotland County versus Mark Twain district playoffs football contest witnessed an epic battle.
The two talented squads took the spectators on a roller coaster ride of lead changes and momentum swings that allowed all of us to walk away realizing we had just watched one of the best high school football games we’ll ever be treated to.
My team came out on the short end of the stick in a 43-41 decision that brought to a close the 2016 football season at Scotland County. For me to write about it with such admiring words, must tell you something.
Sure there were plenty of blips on the radar, as neither squad was perfect. But what made the game so memorable was the feel of an old fashioned prize fight, with the two combatants going toe to toe, offering their opponent the best they had, only to watch them to refuse to go down. Even when Mark Twain appeared to have SCR-I on the ropes, and delivered what on most nights would have been the knockout blow, the Tigers persevered, and got back up. I’d insert the Rocky theme here if newsprint would allow it.
The game was made unforgettable by other historical comparisons. It had not one, but two or three Willis Reed moments. For those of you who don’t know your sports history, Reed was the captain of the New York Knicks. During the 1970 NBA finals he tore a muscle in his thigh, forcing him to miss game six. He limped out of the tunnel at Madison Square Garden just prior to tipoff of the deciding game seven, and scored the first two baskets of the game to help inspire his team to victory.
Well on Friday night in little Center, Missouri, Scotland County kept the athletic trainer busy. Quarterback Aaron Buford went out midway through the second period with a knee injury. The senior returned to start the second half, and threw for a career-high 356 yards and three TDs while also running the ball 14 times for 95 yards and another score.
Linebacker Jaydan Payne, who just recently had worked his way into the locker room, also came out of the locker room at halftime, hobbled, after having his sprained ankle taped. He went on to lead the Tigers with 14 tackles as fellow linebacker Aaron Blessing also battled through injuries to keep clawing his way back on to the field to finish with 10 tackles of his own.
Then there was Ryan Slaughter, SCR-I’s Mr. October. In last year’s season finale, the SCR-I receiver caught four TD passes and ran for another score. His big game reputation remains intact after Friday night’s performance. In his final high school football game, Slaughter hauled in 11 passes for 181 yards and three TDs. He got the job done on the other side of the ball as well, recording 10 tackles from his safety post.
Of course, what would such a memorable contest be without just a little controversy? NFL fans remember The Immaculate Reception, when Franco Harris may or may not miraculously caught a deflected pass far behind the focus of the play and ran it in for a touchdown for the Pittsburg Steelers.
Well Friday night featured the Immaculate Deception. With the game tied late in the fourth quarter and Mark Twain facing a fourth down and short to go on the wrong side of midfield, SCR-I appeared to have stopped Terry Monroe well short of the first down marker to give Scotland County excellent field position from which to try for the winning score. The pile was stopped, and the officials were rushing in to spot the ball. The SCR-I defenders were celebrating. Then all of a sudden, several seconds after the play appeared to be over, you see Monroe sneak out of the pile and sprint down the sideline nearly unnoticed for what the officials allowed to be the go ahead touchdown. I would guesstimate that 99% of the time, similar plays would have been whistled dead, and if you listen to the game film, it sure sounds like at least one referee did blow his whistle, but Monroe was rewarded for his second effort and his head’s up decision to keep running.
But even after the demoralizing blow, SCR-I once again battled back, scoring with just four minutes left to play before the two-point conversion pass was broken up by a great defensive play by Mark Twain to seal the 43-41 win.
Blood, sweat and tears were spilled on that field on Friday night. I hope the sting of defeat soon subsides for the Tigers and they can someday look back on The Game as a fond memory of one of the best contests they were ever a part of.