Quinton caught the opening kickoff just inside the goal line and took off in full stride, following his blockers down the sideline all the way to mid-field. If it wasn’t for the kicker, Q-dub would have taken it to the house for six points. Fired up, Quinton pointed at the crowd as the offense came on the field, led by Mike at quarterback.

Mike reached the huddle as the crowd roared approval at Quinton’s big return. “Alright guys, listen up,” Mike said. “I have no idea what Reynolds just told me because I couldn’t hear him, so how about we run a Z-post 81?” Quinton smiled. “I like how you think Clarky,” he gleamed, realizing that the play was a long bomb designed for him, number 81. “Just give him enough time to throw the ball, and I promise I’ll be at the other end with six.”

“Ready, break!” the team yelled as they broke to the line of scrimmage.

“What the hell is this?” Coach Reynolds yelled from the sideline. “This isn’t the formation! Clark, you asshole!”

Mike then got under center and started calling the play. “Y-88, Z-81, hut, hut, hike!”

A moment later, Reynolds would prove to eat his words as Clark ran the play he called at the huddle. As promised, Quinton burned his defender and caught the ball at the other end for a 50-yard touchdown. The crowd erupted as the band began to play the school’s fight song in celebration. Mike, meanwhile, ran down with the rest of the offense to meet Quinton with his arm raised in the air.

“Fuck yeah, Clarky, we got this shit!” Quinton exclaimed. “Hell yeah, Q-dub!” Mike yelled back as he looked toward the sidelines at Lexi, who was as cheerful as ever, given what she had to endure the last week or so. Mike pointed at her and smiled, then Quinton pointed up at the clear autumn sky in tribute to Luke Swanson. The lights in the stadium beamed as bright as ever, and the public address announcer wasted no time in getting fired up. “Clark’s pass complete to Williams for the touchdown!” he yelled. “Jacobson on to attempt the point after.”

Eli Jacobson, the Bulldogs’ kicker and teacher’s son, jogged onto the field and subsequently split the uprights to make it a 7-0 Springwood lead. Mike then had the task of returning to the sideline to face the wrath of Coach Reynolds, who stood with a smug look on his face. “What do you call that?” he yelled. “I call that a touchdown, coach,” Mike responded. “I know what it was, Clark,” Reynolds fired back. “Don’t ever fucking do it again!” Mike didn’t reply. He just went over and took a quick slug of Gatorade as his teammates congratulated him.

Collins’ offensive approach was much different than Springwood’s. They got their rushing game going, controlling the clock along the way. After about a 9-minute rushing drive that included only two passes and a couple of fourth down conversions, quarterback Steve Moore got the Mustangs in the end zone with a 1-yard run. The extra point knotted up the score at 7-7 as Mike stretched again, ready for his next offensive challenge.

Quinton returned the kickoff back to the Bulldogs’ 25-yard line, and Mike sprinted back onto the field, ready to finally go to work on the game plan. He wasted no time leading the 'Dogs right down the field, alternating short passes, rushes, and in-and-out hooks to the sideline. He was picking apart the Mustangs defense, and Reynolds smiled at his success. Facing a third down and six from the Mustangs 34-yard line, Mike connected with Quinton on a slant pattern over the middle for the first down, and Quinton broke tackles and chugged his way down to the six yard line. He had one man to beat, but the defender grabbed a hold of his shoestrings and dragged him down just short of the goal line.

One play later, Mike got Quinton his second score, as he rolled right and found Quinton in the back of the end zone for the touchdown. Springwood took a 14-7 lead much to the delight of the raucous crowd.

On the ensuing drive, the Collins quarterback uncharacteristically forced a pass into double coverage, and the Bulldogs defense intercepted the pass and took it all the way for a 32-yard touchdown. Mike and Quinton went crazy and swung towels over their heads, trying to get the crowd riled up. It worked, as the fans in the stadium raised the decibel levels even higher and finally started to erase any doubts they may have had. On their next drive, the Mustangs were forced to punt, and the Springwood faithful began to sense a blowout approaching. The punt was returned to the Bulldogs 14-yard line on the last play of the opening quarter, and Mike trotted back onto the field as the clock hit triple-zero.

At the end of one, Springwood led Collins 21-7 as a pair of familiar faces entered the field’s side entrance. It was Officers Jones and Washington, who trailed Mike and Quinton all the way over from the school. They were determined to find out just what the hell was going on, even if it meant walking the damn sidelines. However, just as Jones and Washington sat down in the bleachers, an urgent radio call came over his portable police radio. The volume on it wasn’t very loud, but Jones immediately turned his ear to it: “22-4, squad 36-5,” the operator blared. “Vehicle accident with injuries at the corner of Elm and Maple.”

Vehicle accident with injuries at Elm and Maple? Jones thought. Although he didn’t know why, something seemed oddly peculiar about that accident, so he decided to take it. “22-5 responding,” Jones called back into his radio, pressing the talk button. “We’re not far from the scene and can assist.” “Okay, 22-5, 22-4 will be there in approximately 20 minutes,” the operator called back. “What is your E.T.A.?”

“10 minutes,” Jones called back, looking at his watch. Then, depressing the talk button on his radio with some static, Jones motioned to Washington, who came right to his side. “We gotta go,” Jones told him, never explaining the gut feeling he had deep in the pit of his stomach.

Proceed To Chapter 15
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