Back on the field, the game had turned into a slopfest. Players were sliding around everywhere, and the mud was beginning to cake onto their jerseys so bad that the referees were having a hard time seeing the numbers to call penalties. Mike had completed only one pass so far in the half, and that was the lucky long bomb to Quinton just inside the Collins 10-yard line. In fact, since Mike ran in the 'Dogs fifth touchdown, Springwood’s offense had gone stone cold. Mike was 0-for-10 passing, Quinton had no receptions, and the offense managed only 15 total yards on the ground rushing. Quinton was being manhandled at the line of scrimmage on nearly every play and never even had the chance to get open, let alone catch a pass.

Collins, however, worked their game plan to near perfection. They changed very little and continued to pound the ball down the field on the ground as they had in the first half. Quarterback Steve Moore alternated bootlegs and hand-offs, fullback rushes and tosses to the outside, allowing the Mustangs to eat up even more clock. As a result, the Bulldogs defense really began to wear down. The linebackers were really huffing and puffing, and the secondary got a lot slower with each play. Still, even in the face of such adversity, their tough defense held, forcing a fourth down and five at their 45 yard line. With 7:15 remaining in the third frame, Collins called a timeout to discuss their plans. Coach Reynolds used the timeout to his advantage and called his defense over to catch a breather. Reynolds sensed the opportunity for a big play, and decided to send in all of his linebackers in a gutsy all-out blitz. His assistants advised against it, but Reynolds had a sixth sense about these things. He just knew something big would happen.

And something big did happen. Following the stoppage, Springwood blitzed with everything they had, according to the plan. However, after the ball was snapped, it slipped out of quarterback Moore’s hands and rolled toward the sidelines. Even though the entire coaching staff yelled “fumble!” at the top of their lungs and pointed to the sidelines, the team couldn’t hear them because of all the rain and piled on top of Moore, thinking they had him sacked. It wasn’t until they got back up that they saw the Collins fullback scampering down the sidelines for a 45-yard touchdown. The Mustang faithful went crazy as their boys were back into the game at 35-31.

On the Springwood sidelines, Coach Reynolds was beside himself. His assistants just gave him an “I told you so” look, as if they knew his all-out blitz wouldn’t work. He ignored them, and instead, turned his anger toward the team. “What the fuck is wrong with you guys?” he screamed, berating his entire bench. “You aren’t the same team that was out here in the first half! Get your head out of your ass and start playing some football!”

Sure enough, on the ensuing kickoff, things got worse as Quinton fumbled the ball and Collins recovered it at the Springwood 4-yard line. When that happened, Coach Reynolds absolutely destroyed a Gatorade cooler nearby tossed his clipboard down into the mud in disgust.

Two plays later, Steve Moore took advantage of the exhausted Bulldog defense and slipped into the end zone on a quarterback draw, giving Collins the lead for the first time, 37-35. Quinton was so upset with himself that he went in on special teams and blocked the extra point to keep the deficit at two.

On the next kickoff, Reynolds took Quinton out of the game and subsequently called for a fair catch at their own 22-yard line. At the 5:00 mark of the third quarter, Mike jogged back onto the field, determined as ever to lead his team to victory.

“Alright guys, I-35, post-81,” Mike said as he reached the huddle.

“Fuck!” Quinton yelled in disgust.

“What?” Mike asked.

“You know I hate running that shit,” Quinton stated. “Every time I run that, I always get fucked up. It’s my weakest pattern, and Reynolds knows it. Can’t you audible this one? He’s doing it on purpose cause I fumbled that kick.”

“Sorry, Q-dub,” Mike informed him. “He already chewed my ass out once for that opening play, and I don’t want to risk being benched at a time like this. Relax, man, it was just one play. Look at the scoreboard. We’re only down by two, and it’s still the third quarter. Just get open and we’ll get the lead back.”

“Aight,” Quinton sighed, still disagreeing with the play call. “But I don’t like it.”

Springwood then broke the huddle and set up with five wide receivers on the play. Mike got under the center and tried to read the defense before him. He then called out the snap count and raised one foot, sending Quinton in motion to the opposite side of the line. “Ready, set, hut, hike!” Mike yelled quickly, hoping to fool the Collins defense. It worked briefly, but then the Mustang linebackers broke through, forcing Mike to roll right. At the same time, he spotted Quinton wide open over the middle, and was just about to deliver the perfect pass—when he was drilled from behind by the weak side safety. As a result, the ball slipped off of Mike’s fingertips and sailed high over Quinton’s head. Undeterred, Quinton jumped high in the air and made a miraculous grab, but paid a heavy price in doing so. As soon as the ball hit his chest, Quinton was decked in the back by the inside linebacker, and at the same time, hit helmet-to-helmet with his covering cornerback, sending him crashing upside down into the soggy ground below.

The Springwood fans collectively held their breath as the whistles blew and the tacklers got up off of him. Mike, who was driven face down into a puddle of mud, didn’t see what happened after the ball left his hand. He knew something was wrong as soon as he got up. The officials were huddled around Quinton, and both teams were down to one knee at his side.

“Oh shit,” Mike clamored, rushing to his side. He looked down at Quinton, who was motionless on the ground, and the tears began to flow. His best friend might be seriously injured or worse, and it was all his fault. “Q, you okay?” Mike cried. “Quinton? Holy fuck, get some help over here!”

An eerie silence befell the stadium as Mike motioned for the paramedics. In the stands, Tash and Lexi looked on in total horror. “Oh my god!” Tash screamed, pushing her way through the crowd with Lexi not far behind. The medics slipped and fell numerous times trying to get the stretcher to him in the heavy downpour, but they were finally able to get to him. They removed his helmet and shoulder pads and took his blood pressure, finally bringing him around with some smelling salt. Mike was right there at his side when Quinton opened his eyes.

“I’m so sorry, man,” Mike whimpered. “It’s all my fault.”

Quinton just stared back up at him, and then, with a cough, broke his silence. “You were just doing your job,” was all he was able to say before the medics administered an IV.

“You hang in there, okay?” Mike asked. “We’re gonna win it for you, I promise!”

Quinton then reached his hand up and firmly grasped Mike’s, and then let go as the medics began to wheel him away.

Mike just stood there dejected, when suddenly, an even more important matter burst into his mind. What if Quinton was right about this Krueger character? What if he really did get you while you were asleep? If that was indeed true, then Quinton would surely be dog meat unless something was done. Frantic, Mike rushed back to his side again as the medics reached the ambulance.

“It’s all true, isn’t it?” Mike asked. Quinton looked up at him and knew instantly what he was insinuating. Unable to say much, he just nodded his head up and down in agreement. Then, realizing how vulnerable he now was to the evil dream stalker, Quinton’s eyes widened.

“What can I do?” Mike questioned as the medics shoved him away. He didn’t have to think long before he realized that if Quinton fell asleep or was put down by medication, he was a goner for sure.

Just then, Tash and Lexi joined Mike at the far sideline, and all three realized the terror together. Krueger was spreading, and they knew who was next.

“Go with him, for god’s sake!” Mike insisted. “Don’t let them put him to sleep!” Tash, surprised, immediately knew what he meant, and snuck into the back of the ambulance just before the doors closed.

Lexi tried to hug Mike, but he ran away from her and retreated to the bench as the sirens roared away from the stadium. Lexi tried to call out to him, but the rain drowned out her shouts. A small round of applause followed as the ambulance disappeared from sight, their sirens blaring loudly in the night.

On the sidelines, Mike was beside himself. Dejected, he dropped to one knee. I just killed my best friend, he thought, even thought Quinton was in stable condition. Why did I have to throw it? How could Reynolds call that play? How could he miss that block? How? He was starting to lose his mind.

An instant later, the ref blew his whistle and the game was set to resume, minus Quinton. Reynolds came over and tried to apologize to Mike, but he sprinted right past him and returned to the huddle. He had no idea how he could possibly finish the game now, but he had a promise to keep.

And he was damn sure going to keep it.

Proceed To Chapter 19
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