It was a beautiful Friday night, and the Robinson High School stands were packed. The energy could be felt as the Knights took on Tallahassee Godby in the Class 5A state semifinal, seeking to add another chapter to their fairy tale season that appeared destined for a state title. Throughout the first half, that belief, that excitement permeated Jack Peters Field.
But as the teams came out for the second half, there was a shift in the air. Something had changed and the victorious vision began to fade as Godby erased a 10-point deficit and eventually took a 4-point lead.
"It was exhilarating," said Robinson coach Mike DePue. "Then the rug was pulled out from under us."
Early in the fourth quarter, a few players could be seen comforting a teammate who had already succumbed to tears. Coaches responded by reminding the players it wasn't over and not to give up.
And then, the Knights began to fight back — moving closer and closer to a potential game-winning touchdown in the final minute.
Ultimately, the drive came up short, and in the final seconds, Godby players rushed onto the field in celebration.
"In those final seconds, I watched my four years of high school flash before my eyes," Robinson senior quarterback Zain Gilmore said. "I felt everything on my shoulders, and it felt like I was failing the task at hand."
Screams of sorrow began to drown out the distant Godby celebration. Some players clung to coaches for support, while others sat on the field, tears streaming down their faces, looking up into the night sky for an answer. After a brief period of mourning, DePue told his players to man up and come together for the senior sendoff. A Robinson tradition is to send the seniors off in a tunnel of supporting family members and fans. But there was one extra person this year who wouldn't be coming back: DePue, who will retire after 30 years at the school.
After shedding some tears himself as he said goodbye to his players, DePue took his turn going through the tunnel. He took this final walk in stride. Then, as his players lifted him onto their shoulders, he was met with overwhelming applause.
"I hope this year is something that my players will cherish and reflect upon when they are 20, 30, 40 and 50," DePue said. "I want them to look back and say, 'What a special period in my life.' "
Eve Edelheit, Times staff writer