THE SPRINGWOOD SLASHER
CHAPTER 21- FOURTH AND LONG
Back at Springwood Stadium, Mike and the Bulldogs trailed 44-41 late in the fourth quarter, mostly due to the loss of their star receiver (who they didn’t know was not just injured, but dead as well). Mike was taking the loss of Quinton very hard and it really affected his game. He got plays mixed up, forced passes into double coverage, and ran the ball when other receivers were clearly wide open. Worst of all, he was calling audibles for no reason at the line of scrimmage, only to see the play blow up in his face. Coach Reynolds debated with his assistant coaches the entire fourth quarter whether or not they should replace him with the backup quarterback, Shane Walters.
Reynolds let Mike in, however, with the chance that maybe, just maybe, he would lead his team up from the ashes one more time. With just over two minutes remaining, the Springwood defense finally held and forced Collins to punt. But instead of going over plays and preparing the no-huddle offense, Mike just knelt dejected on the sidelines near mid-field. He appeared to be praying as the 'Dogs took over at their own 20-yard line. Reynolds found that very interesting, considering Mike was never a spiritual kid at all. He never wore a cross or other religious paraphernalia, and he never saw him say a prayer in his entire life. Nearby, Lexi wondered the exact same thing as she sat in the bleachers trying to stay dry. What’s going on with him, she thought. Ever since Quinton got injured, it was like part of him was missing. There were other wide receivers for him to throw to, but she knew almost instantly that Mike wouldn’t be the same without his best friend and star receiver.
Depressed and lonely, Lexi felt really rejected by Mike, especially when he shoved her away following Quinton’s injury. That really hurt, and the fact that she needed him now more than ever hurt even worse. It was always about football. Football, football, and more football. Just once, Lexi wished he wasn’t Mike Clark, the star quarterback of the Springwood High Bulldogs, but rather, Mike Clark, her boyfriend, the caring guy that she loved.
At that instant, her cell phone rang, and tears began to well up in her eyes when she saw the number on the caller ID. It was Springwood Memorial Hospital. Fearing the worst, Lexi hesitantly answered it.
“Oh my god!” was all she said as she hung up and ran out into the rain toward the exit.
On the field, Coach Reynolds badgered Mike about the two-minute offense, but he didn’t hear any of it. His thoughts were solely focused on Quinton, and he couldn’t shake it no matter how hard he tried. Still, he made a promise to his best friend, and he was going to keep it, come hell or high water (which is what it felt like in that soggy stadium).
On one knee, Mike finished up his prayers by closing his eyes and whispering, “Please God, help Quinton pull through, and help us win this one for him.” Then, in a flash, Mike opened his eyes and ran back on the field, re-invigorated. The prayers must’ve worked, because Mike led his team to two straight first downs across mid-field, and they were marching down the field with an ease not seen since the first half. It’s almost like Varsity Blues, Mike thought with a smile. Cue up the Foo Fighters’ “Hero” or better yet, Green Day’s “Nice Guys Finish Last,” because we’re marching for the winning score just like West Canaan did in the movie, and we’re gonna get it if it fucking kills me.
Inspired, Mike completed four straight passes deep into Mustang territory. The Springwood faithful started to roar once again, excited that their star quarterback was returning to form. Coach Reynolds gave his assistants an ‘I told you so’ look as they smiled with happiness and anticipation. But the game was not over yet. The clock read 1:32, and the Owls still trailed 44-41. The officials spotted the ball on the Collins 32-yard line, and Mike rushed to the line to call a quick draw play. That play succeeded for six yards down to the 26, and Mike called a quick timeout, the second of Springwood’s three for the half.
But then the momentum he had regained so quickly vanished just as fast when he reached the sidelines.
“Alright, Clark, welcome back,” Reynolds joked. “It’s time for an 81 hook-and-ladder.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Mike fired back defensively. “That’s one of Quinton’s favorite plays. He’s the only one who can convert that, and you know it! If we run that play, it’s gonna cost us our last time out!”
“Do you want to win or not?” Reynolds yelled, infuriated. “Just do what I tell you.”
“Whatever,” Mike said, returning to the quick huddle to deliver the play. The ball was snapped, and sure enough, the play failed. The pass was complete to the wide receiver in the slot, but before he could lateral the ball to the streaking teammate, he was drilled and dropped in the middle of the field. As predicted, the Bulldogs had to burn their last timeout, but that was the least of their worries. On the play, Mike got sandwiched between two linebackers after he threw the ball, and was starting to feel light-headed. What the fuck is wrong with me? he thought, trying to shake the cobwebs as he lay on the ground.
Everything was spinning and seemed blurry to him as he looked up at the clouds in the sky. However, he shrieked as he did that, because he didn’t see white, puffy clouds, but rather, he saw the sadistic Freddy Krueger, who was holding Quinton’s decapitated head and pointing right at him. And before Mike could concentrate any more, he was pulled back to his feet by his teammates and thrown back to the sidelines.
“Post pattern, go for it all,” Reynolds said, noticing the clock had dwindled to 1:04. But Mike wasn’t even paying attention. It seemed like his body was there, but his mind was on another planet, Planet Krueger, and it wasn’t coming back. After spacing out for a moment, Mike cleared his head and ran back to the formation, completely forgetting the play Reynolds called. With the play clock ticking down, Mike had no choice but to signal for an audible and hope for the best. Reynolds about blew his top when he saw it.
Mike got under center one more time in a hurry, but when he looked down at the ball, he didn’t even see the nose of the pigskin at all—instead, he saw Freddy Krueger’s burnt face chomping at him smiling. Mike was scared to death to call hike, and when he did, he screamed at the top of his lungs as the ball bounced off of his chest and to the ground. Recovering from his brief spell, Mike yelled “oh shit!” and fell on top of the ball out of gut instinct. There was little time to lick his wounds, however, as the clock continued to run. With no idea what to do, Mike called another audible, this time a corner pattern designed for a touchdown. The ball was snapped, but Collins sent a blitz, and when Mike dropped back in the pocket to throw the ball, all he saw was a sea of white jerseys rushing toward him. But something was different about these linebackers. He shook his head repeatedly, but the blurry image appeared to be a half-dozen Freddy Kruegers charging toward him. Screaming with all his lungs would allow, Mike ran to the right and instead of completing the pass to the wide-open receiver for the game-winning score, he threw the ball over his head and out the back of the end zone.
The clock read 0:27 when Mike collected himself again, and he knew he was in for the wrath of Coach Reynolds when he got back to the sideline.
“Son, I don’t know what you’re on,” Reynolds said. “But after what you’ve done tonight, I should bench your ass. If it wasn’t the most important game I’ve ever coached, your ass would be riding the pine. But since we’re so close, I’m gonna give you one last chance. Win this fucking game. I don’t care how you do it, just do it. If you fail me again, I don’t want to see you in my locker room ever again.”
Mike didn’t reply. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Off the team? Never in a million years. He knew what he had to do, but how in the hell could he get that god damn Krueger out of his head long enough to run a decent play, and not run away scared shitless? Ah-ha, that's how. Mike had a plan.
Facing fourth and long, Mike ran up to the line of scrimmage and called a quick snap count, completely throwing off the timing of the Collins defense. He rolled left this time, and successfully completed a pass to the tight end, who failed to get out of bounds to stop the clock. Reynolds about blew a gasket as he watched the clock, and his dreams, ticking down. The final 10 seconds drained away, and by the time Mike assembled the formation again and spiked the ball, the clock was down to 0:03. That left time for one more play. It would be second and goal from the Collins 12-yard line.
“Alright, let’s go for the chip shot field goal and tie this up,” Reynolds said. “We can take our chances in overtime.”
“What do you mean? In this weather, Jacobson will miss for sure!” Mike insisted. “Let me run a bootleg to the left, I know I can beat them to the pylon.”
“Are you going to argue with me, Clark, because I’m not in the mood,” Reynolds piped back. “Just do what I tell you, son.”
Sighing, Mike finally agreed and the field goal unit was sent onto the field, much to the dismay of the raucous Springwood crowd. The Bulldogs faithful elicited a chorus of boos directed right at Coach Reynolds, who just stood on the sideline with a scowl on his face. “We gotta play percentages,” he told his assistants.
Mike knelt down to be the holder as Eli Jacobson set up three and a half yards back from him. This was it, Mike thought, and began to tremble, knowing deep inside that this kick was not going to work. Oh, what the fuck, he thought, yelling, “Set, hut hut, hike!”
And in those last three seconds, their lives changed forever. The ball was snapped, but it slipped off of the center’s hand and practically rolled to Mike. Still, he got it down and set for the kick, but just as Jacobson went to kick it, he slipped and fell on the mushy field. Luckily, Mike saw Eli was losing his footing and tucked the ball away before he fell. But now what? Acting out of sheer instinct, Mike took off charging toward the left pylon. The clock hit 0:00 and Mike was closing in on the goal line— but at the same time, four Collins defenders were closing in on Mike. As he approached the pylon, Mike dove and reached his arms out as far as they would go, lunging toward the elusive orange marker. Mike was just about there when the four defenders absolutely destroyed him with a series of bone-jarring hits, all in different parts of his body.
When the play was over, Mike’s effort was not enough. The nose of the ball was stopped just inches short of crossing the goal line, and final horn had sounded. There would be no “Hero” or “Nice Guys Finish Last” to play on this night. Collins won the game, 44-41.
A familiar hush befell the stadium once again as the Springwood fans were shocked at their devastating defeat. The Collins Mustangs celebrated ravenously, jumping all over each other like it was the Super Bowl. Their boosters also shouted for joy, hugging each other and cheering with all they had. The Springwood Bulldogs, meanwhile, stood there stunned and disappointed, realizing that despite Mike’s super human effort at the last second, they had lost the biggest game of their lives.
As the Bulldogs watched the Mustangs celebrate, their attention rapidly shifted to Mike, who lay motionless on the ground, still reaching for the goal line in the same position he was tackled in.
“Oh no,” Coach Reynolds said. “Not again.”
Proceed To Chapter 22
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