Something I've never seen before
Nov. 28, 2000
I'm sure Newton County head football coach Jeff Breland is still steamed from his team's season-ending loss.
Can't say I blame him.
I spent five years playing the game. Went to at least twice as many games as I played in even before I took up this so-called profession.
And in the 11 football seasons since, I guess I've seen, covered, watched or witnessed parts of thousands of games. But never ever have I seen a team lose a football game like the Cougars did last Friday.
Although I know my wife will think I'm lying, this is one time when I can't start a story by saying "Back when I was playing …"
Because I've never experienced anything like it.
Nobody bothered to tell the Cougars they were a two-touchdown underdog in last Friday's Class 3A South State championship game. Heck, as far as that goes, nobody bothered to tell the Cougars they were playing two weeks deeper into the postseason than anyone imagined.
But there Newton County's football team was last Friday on a rain-soaked field at East Central Community College. The Cougars overcame an entire first quarter of absolutely horrible field position. They overcame an impressive first drive by Magee. They persevered. They stood their ground. And they got the big home crowd believing they could win.
By halftime, the Cougars were up 10-6. With two minutes left, Newton County was ahead 13-6.
Then, tragedy struck.
On a broken play, all heck broke loose.
The Magee quarterback who seemed to have his entire entourage of teammates blocking for him downfield scrambled and weaved his way 63 yards across the slick field and down to the Cougars' 2-yard line.
The Trojans scored on the next play, and as all of us on the sideline knew they would, lined up to go for two and the win.
That's when it happened. That's when Newton County's defense stood up to the test. That's when NCHS appeared to have Magee stopped …
Wow. This over-achieving but fundamentally-sound squad, which lost 17 seniors from last year's team … which rallied to win a second straight division title after starting the season 1-2 … which kept plugging despite a host of non-believers was heading to Jackson to play for NCHS' first-ever state championship in football.
But it never happened.
The ball squirted loose and into the end zone. A Magee lineman recovered, and seconds later the Trojans celebrated in tasteless fashion by making the South end zone their own personal swimming pool.
I have since been told by co-workers that the lineman was not eligible to recover the fumbled football. And now, my colleagues and television buddies say the ball wasn't fumbled at all. Slow-motion replays clearly show it was flipped forward into the end zone.
Not that any of it matters. The MHSAA won't bring Magee back to East Central to re-play the final minute.
Newton County won't go to Jackson to play for a state title. At least not this year.
On a night where I thought the Cougars dominated one-third of Magee's total yards came on the scramble and another third on the game's opening drive Newton County got less than what it deserved.
Unfortunately, as Breland said last week, nothing is guaranteed in the future. Just because things look good now doesn't mean results will come later.
But I sure have a feeling they will.
Rocky Higginbotham is a sports writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.