“Can you believe this?” Lexi exclaimed, taking a quick break in between quarters to chat with Tash.

“Yeah, this is awesome!” Tash agreed. “I have the feeling this is the night we’ve been waiting for!”

The Springwood band then struck up a few tunes to entertain the crowd while the players prepared for quarter number two.

“You see those guys over there?” Tash asked, pointing to two guys dressed in red and gray sport coats.

“Yeah, what about them?” Lexi questioned.

“They’re scouts from Ohio State that came to check out Quinton,” Tash informed her. “I hope he doesn’t see them or else he’s gonna screw up for sure.”

“He’s doing fine, Tash,” Lexi said reassuringly. “I’m sure he’ll be great.”

“Any word on Apryl?” Tash asked sympathetically.

“No, not yet,” Lexi responded. “But I guess no news is good news at this point.”

“Yeah, I think you’re right,” Tash agreed.

Just then, Lexi heard her fellow cheerleaders calling to her as they prepared to do their next cheer.

“Well, I gotta get back over, I’ll see you at halftime,” Lexi stated, forcing a smile as she ran back to her group.

Tash just waved back and smiled until she was suddenly frightened by who she saw at the concession stand. She took a quick glance and could have sworn she recognized the guy. But it couldn’t be, could it? This guy sure looked familiar, but he was also wearing a black fedora and a tall black trench coat. There was no way it could be him, she thought, blinking her eyes to do a double-take. When she opened her eyes again, the man was gone.


Mike took to the huddle to start the second quarter as the Bulldogs led 21-7. “X-81 up and out,” he called, and Quinton smiled again. “You’re a genius, you know that?” Quinton said. Mike just grinned back as the team collectively screamed, “Break!” and got in a 5-wide receiver formation at their own 14-yard line.

Mike shook up the Collins defense by calling a fake audible, and then, eluding the blitzing linebackers, found Quinton wide open across mid-field, and it was off to the races. Quinton got free from his defender, and by the time the race was over, he was dragged down from behind at the Mustang 25-yard line, a gain of 61 yards.

The crowd continued its noise as their beloved Bulldogs were about to find the end zone yet again. Two plays later, Mike faked a handoff, bootlegged to the outside, and found paydirt as he went untouched into the end zone for the touchdown. Mike went crazy and spiked the ball hard near the goal post as the band played the Springwood fight song for the fourth time in the game. Eli Jacobson came on and made the extra point, and with 10 minutes remaining in the first half, the Bulldogs extended their lead to 28-7.

After some high-fives, Mike went over and grabbed some water, and took notice of Lexi, who was leading the cheerleaders in a “Go! Fight! Win!” chant. It worked well with the boisterous crowd, and after it was over, Mike just smiled and winked at her as she waved her green pom-poms at him. “Hey Clark, get over here!” Coach Reynolds yelled. Not wanting to stay on the coach’s bad side, Mike set his helmet down and ran over to discuss the game plan.

On the field, Collins continued to pound the ball on the ground, eating up the clock in chunks as they collected first down after first down. The Springwood defense was really getting worn down, but they couldn’t stop the Mustangs on third down, so they were forced to tough it out. Their stamina now put to the test, it made them appreciate the two-a-days and the sprints a little more. On a crucial third-and-five from the Bulldogs’ 15-yard line, Reynolds decided to gamble and go with an all-out blitz. The cornerback rushed in untouched, but the safety covering his man fell down, and it resulted in an easy touchdown pass for the Mustangs.

“God damnit!” Coach Reynolds screamed. “We had them! It’s alright, men, we’ll get it back.”

Following the point after, Collins cut the lead back to two touchdowns at 28-14, but more importantly, kept the Springwood offense off the field for another 7:14 of the clock. The ensuing kickoff resulted in a touchback, so with around three minutes left in the half, Mike, Quinton, and the 'Dogs offense took the field.

Under Coach Reynolds’ direction, Mike tried to control the clock, mixing in some rushing plays to go with the passing attack. Unfortunately, Springwood was never good at clock control. The experts said it was one of the team’s few flaws, and in this instance, they were right. As the clock hit the two-minute warning, the Owls faced an important third-and-four from their own 26 yard-line.

The crowd got a little restless, but seemed to understand what was going on. Lexi, along with the rest of her squad, continued to cheer her heart out, and Tash screamed her lungs out in support of Quinton. She even glanced over her shoulder from time to time to observe the scouts from Ohio State taking notes. She just smiled, knowing it had to be all good things based on Quinton’s performance to that point. And good things for Quinton could also mean good things for Mike, too.

After a timeout, Mike came back to the huddle and called the play, resulting in another bootleg. This time, however, the stingy Collins defense called a blitz and dragged Mike down behind the line of scrimmage. Fearing a fumble, Mike just protected the ball and went down as the Mustangs celebrated.

Fans began to boo as the Bulldogs were forced to punt for the first time in the game. Still trying to control the clock, Reynolds had the special teams run the play clock down to one second before snapping the ball, but it didn’t matter much. The punt was lousy, and Collins got the ball at mid-field with 1:25 on the clock.

Unlike Springwood, Collins effectively managed the clock and executed their running game to perfection. The Mustangs used all three timeouts to their advantage and got in field goal range with three seconds remaining. Then, as time kicked down, the Mustangs kicker came on and drilled a 45-yard field goal to cut the Springwood lead to 11 at 28-17.

Coach Reynolds didn’t say anything. He just sprinted off the field dumbfounded as both teams retreated to their respective locker rooms for halftime. Mike and Quinton jogged off together slowly, purposely behind the rest of the team.

“What are we gonna do Q-dub?” Mike asked. “We can’t do shit on the sideline.” He then looked up and noticed that the sky had begun to cloud up considerably and was no longer the star-filled delight it had been at kickoff.

“We’re aight, Clarky,” Quinton replied. “We just have to score when we do get the ball and everything else will fall into place.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Mike agreed, high-fiving Quinton, who disappeared into the locker room. Mike was just about to enter right behind him when something caught his eye on the scoreboard. He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw it—or did he? As he read the scoreboard, the clock was lit up with yellow numbers at 0:00, the visitors’ score was lit up at 17, and the Owls score was lit up at 28. However, just below that on the scrolling marquee, he could have sworn he read an eerie message. There, lit up in the dim yellow lights, it read: “9, 10, never sleep again!”

Proceed To Chapter 16
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