Big and Bright Chapter Nine Excerpt: Stony Point Tigers

I’m not sure if it’s because the subject was unique, or because my writing had gotten better by the time I wrote it, but the Stony Point Tiger story was one of my favorites in the book. Unlike the other schools I covered, Stony Point has fallen on harder times these past three seasons. Winning is much more enjoyable than losing, so it’s easy to lose perspective when covering so many championship level programs and forget that losing is a big part, in fact an equal part, of the competitive equation.

Situations like Stony Point are rarely covered as much as programs on the top, but they are situations almost any coach can identify with.

 …On paper there’s no reason the Tigers can’t play with Westwood and come out on top. But Stony Point’s 3-4 record is deceiving. They’ve lost three games by less than a field goal. One more break in each of those contests and the Tigers would be sitting in the district driver’s seat with a record of 7-1.

What might have been doesn’t much matter, though, the reality is that something does keep going wrong. The weight of how this season’s played out makes it feel as though the Tigers not only will be battling Westwood, but their own recent history. Nothing is said, the coaches are loose and optimistic in their X’s and O’s and in the matchup with the Warriors, but they don’t seem confident.

            Over at the stadium, the Tigers warm up in their yellow practice jerseys, not wanting the Westwood staff to be able to figure out who is playing where. Tonight, Stony Point wears visiting jerseys, grayish-white with blue numbers, “STP”on the sleeves matching the logo on their helmets. The Palace is the home stadium for both schools and it’s Westwood’s home game this year. In the coaches’ locker room Chessher looks nervous as he sits on a stool before kickoff and says, as much to himself as to anyone else in the room, “This is my chosen profession; I need to keep reminding myself of that.”

As loose as everyone’s been all afternoon, there is a lot on the line. A win or two can stop the negative momentum building after each loss. Chessher knows his ability to continue ‘renting’ good assistants will be reduced if the Tigers keep losing. Continuing to find good coaches, more than anything, will be the main factor in bringing this program back and saving his job.

            The crowd is sparse in the big stadium. I’m sure the cold weather has kept many away. The support of most suburban schools is different than in the one-school towns. High school football is big in most parts of the state, but suburban fans are more fickle than those in smaller cities. Stony Point drew well when they were winning two years ago, but fans in Round Rock have little patience for a losing team and many have jumped on the bandwagons of other local programs.

            The game starts well for Stony Point. The defense plays lights out, hardly giving up a first down, and the Tigers grab an early lead with a 34-yard field goal with 4:13 to go in the first. Westwood’s quarterback is getting a lot of media attention as a great passer, but tonight, the Tiger front four are all over him. The run defense is outstanding as well, giving Westwood’s backs nothing to work with.

            The trouble is on the offensive side of the ball. Running back Joseph Marrero gets banged up early. He returns, but the Tigers play the rest of the game without any offensive speed. They gain three or four yards on most running plays behind good push from their offensive line, but don’t have an explosive athlete to turn those gains into something more.

 With their passing game ineffective, the running game needs to be perfect. Three or four yards is fine as long as the chains move every three plays, but Stony Point’s execution isn’t flawless. On each Tiger drive, eventually a penalty or a missed block put them in a third and long situation they can’t run out of. Turnovers are the other factor in the first half. The Tigers put the ball on the ground four times, losing two fumbles, and twice are intercepted.

            With 2:33 remaining in the half, the Stony Point offense makes its biggest mistake of the night. The Tigers attempt a bubble screen on their own 5-yard line, Westwood intercepts and the Warriors capitalize two plays later, scoring a touchdown and taking a 7-3 lead. On their ensuing possession the Tigers move the ball into field-goal range, but an interception in the end zone with just 27 seconds left in the half ends that threat.

            During halftime I overhear one defensive player say to another, “We’re doing hella good.” It’s true, the defense is playing outstandingly, but I’m struck by a realization that this is a very different game for the players and the coaches. The players will feel about the same in two hours whether the Tigers win or not. Little hangs in the balance for them. They are kids playing a game, as they should be.

But this is the coaches’ livelihood. Winning and losing may be the difference between staying in Round Rock, getting promoted to head jobs or having to move elsewhere after being fired. I remember what Stewart said about a coach’s professional success being decided by 18-year-old kids and realize what a crazy business this is…

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