This week, the Times’ high school staff reflects on the best high school sporting event each writer covered in the 2010-11 school year. Preps columnist John C. Cotey looks back at Armwood’s 22-20 state semifinal win over Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer on Dec. 10.
I remember bodies strewn across the field.
I remember young men holding each other up as they stumbled around, bodies heaving, legs wobbly.
I remember the tears.
You would have thought I had walked into the aftermath of a natural disaster, and maybe in the opinion of Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer, I had.
But this was a happy celebration.
A celebration of arguably the greatest football game in Armwood football history.
Someone caught a few passes and someone kicked a field goal and the final score was 22-20, but what really stood out was the postgame.
It was amazing.
Matt Jones, a hulking, bearded teenager, walked around the field, alone for a few moments. Players streaked around him, looking for someone to hug, oblivious to the big fella.
Jones wailed as if he were a little boy lost in the mall, looking for his parents. Armwood offensive coordinator Evan Davis walked up to him, hugging Jones so hard he lifted him off the ground. When he set the running back down, Jones could have crumpled, his knees still rubbery.
Like all of his teammates, Jones had gone from the lowest low to the highest high in a matter of minutes, and it had left him and a good many of his fellow Hawks a blubbery mess.
Everyone cried. Josh Grady cried, then collapsed. His hands folded over his face as he lay on his back, the quarterback could barely breathe.
We all kind of felt like that.
With 19 seconds to go in the Class 4A state semifinal, Armwood trailed 20-19. Then Jones reached down and plucked a Grady pass out of the air, and 28 yards later the Hawks had passed midfield.
The next play, Grady hit Alvin Bailey on a short pass, and the sophomore wide receiver hustled out of bounds at the 27 with five seconds remaining.
Grady had done his job, and it wasn’t easy.
Before going into the huddle for what he thought would be his last high school passes, he was devastated. After Dwyer had scored on a touchdown pass to complete a long, almost game-winning drive, Grady looked to the sideline for a sign of hope.
His defensive coordinator, Matt Thompson, simply told him this moment is what legends are made of.
But how do you muster up the hope, the confidence to complete a miracle, when you look into the faces of your offensive linemen and see tears?
Well …you just do.
Even with the ball on the 27, I was ready to write about the Armwood defense, so great all season, but when it counted most hadn’t been able to stop Jacoby Brissett and Dwyer.
How did this happen?
Were they tired?
Was Dwyer just better?
Then Ash Dudney, probably the only guy on the field whose life had not revolved around football since he was a kid, put his foot into the most perfect kick of his life.
From 44 yards, it was good.
The story changed.
This was the best thing I saw all year, and nothing was really close.
This is why you watch sports, for that fantastic finish. This was the stuff you find in every sports movie.
This was Rudy being carried off the field, Rocky screaming for Adrian, Jimmy Chitwood sinking the final shot.
And it revolved around one of sports’ greatest tenets.
“Never lose faith,” Grady sobbed, over and over.
“Never lose faith.”