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One Play For The Rest Of Your Lives

27 May

The following is a first-hand account of a football memory written by Rayonsports columnist Connor Pohlman:

On a brisk October day, I was packing up my books in my backpack, getting ready to leave my last class of the day. I was a junior then, and was anxiously waiting for my playoff football game later that night. Our team was undefeated that year, and since I was a junior, I had a small role on the team, only playing a limited amount of snaps, but still cherished every moment I was fortunate enough to experience. This game was important, as the winner would go on to play at the time, New Era Field, for a chance to win the Section VI Championship. If only I knew that the remaining hours of the day would be a rollercoaster of emotions. Driving to the school on that game day was a nerve-wracking experience. I felt a lot of pressure to perform well for my teammates and my school. The sight of the large W which represented West Seneca West that is posted on the wall near the sports entrance would always give me butterflies in my stomach. When I walked into the locker room, the smell is one that still sticks with me to this day… yes, the stink of it. Looking back to it, I get a sense of nostalgia thinking about it though. I put my equipment on, and looked around at the seniors, who were
contemplating the fact that this game could be their last. I wanted to do everything I could to assure they would live to fight another day. Once everyone was ready and warmups were done, we all waited in the locker room for our head coach, Mike Vastola, to give his pregame speech.
Something that the entire coaching staff preached was being a good man first, then a good player second. I as well as them, believe in and try to live this philosophy. While walking out of the locker room onto the path to the field, I could already hear the sounds of the game. Music was playing, fans were murmuring, and cheerleaders were practicing their routines. The sound of our cleats walking in unison on the stone path sounded like soldiers marching in formation. This experience was virtually new to me at the time, as I had only been a part of one other playoff game my first year on varsity football. Before I knew it, I was out on the field for the opening kickoff. Once the ball met the air, I along with my teammates chased after it down the field. The play always seems longer than it actually is. Adrenaline running through my body, I jogged back
to the sideline once kickoff was over with, now watching my team perform. We got off to an early start going up 7-0. In a blink of an eye it was then 14-0. They went back on offense, but our defense shut them down fairly quickly. I would play a few snaps every now and then, and when the adrenaline rush wore off, I started to tire. At that moment, nothing could’ve tasted better than the cold water stored in the Gatorade squirt bottles. When we got the ball back, we methodically drove down the field and punched in another touchdown. 21-0. A few more drives of no scores followed our fast start and at halftime, the score was 21-0 us. Some of us were riding high, but the team leaders drove home the message that we haven’t done anything yet, and that the job
wasn’t finished. Taking a knee in our end zone listening to our captains and coaches talk to us was always a learning experience for me, but especially on this night. It was important for me to keep my emotions in check and not get too excited, as the game certainly wasn’t over yet. The feeling of my gloves going back onto my hands never got old. The second half of the game was underway, and we were in for a rude awakening. Starpoint had the ball to start the half, so we went out on defense. Their offense found something that worked, so they kept going to it. They eventually found themselves in the end zone for the first time all game. 21-7 now. It was at this moment where I realized a victory wasn’t as assured as I thought it was going to be. The mood on our sideline shifted, and I noticed some of our players and coaches had a nervous aura about them. I wasn’t sure how to feel exactly. Throughout the year, almost every game seemed to come easily. But now was when we were going to be truly tested with adversity. Just like when we were scoring, it seemed like mere moments until they scored again and it was 21-14. Blink again and it was now 21-21. Everyone started to lose hope when they got the ball back and managed to quickly score again. In the span of mere moments, they were now leading 28-21.

What I remember most about standing on the sideline was just taking in everyone’s attitude and demeanor about the situation. Many were disheartened, but our resilient guys never lost hope. “Just take it one play at a time boys. Just focus on the now, don’t worry about the score” Coach Vastola told my group of receivers I was standing with. When we got the ball back, we stayed hopeful and found the end zone again finally, evening the score at 28. From then on, the field became a western shootout, constantly going back and forth. 35-28, 35-35, 41-35, 42-41. The score would’ve been tied at 42 at this point, but Starpoint had a failed 2-point conversion. There was less than 3 minutes now in the game. The moment when Starpoint scored once more, and
had a successful 2-point conversion is when I could hear my heartbeats every thump. 49-42 with 2:11 to go. I didn’t take any moment for granted, appreciating every second and every little detail of my surroundings. My teammates are like brothers to me and I didn’t want it to end so soon. As our offense took the field for the final drive I just kept remembering, “come on guys, one play for the rest of your lives.” All we needed was one big play to secure a victory. Our offense drove down the field play by play, clock running still. I remember the time exactly. 47 seconds. That’s how much time was left when we scored a touchdown. The score was 49-48. Instead of going for the tie, our coach made the bold decision of going for 2 and the lead. When the ball was snapped, it seemed as if everyone at the field took one collective breath and held it. Everything happening on the field was in slow motion for me. I watched as our running back made one cut, and muscle his way into the end zone to take the lead. That moment of relief as we watched the clock run out with our team having one more point could not be understated. I ran into multiple teammates hugging them and jumping up and down.
I believe that football represents what America should look like. People from all backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, and beliefs, coming together to achieve one goal. That’s what I loved about playing football, and what I still love about the game today. From this game, I learned so much about appreciating every little moment of life, and everything I’m blessed to have in it. Never take anything for granted, enjoy the moment, and don’t worry about the future. This game taught me more about life and about myself than I could have ever imagined, and that is why I believe this moment made me grow not only as a football player, but as a man.

 

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