The 'Trojan Train' headed to the Music City
On Friday night with a little more than an hour left before the opening kickoff between Dyersburg and Covington, walking into J.C. Sawyers Stadium through the pass gate just seemed a bit different.
During my career as a sportswriter I witnessed some really critical games at the stadium, writing about both the good outcomes as well as some not so good. On Friday, with a sportswriting career long past, the opportunity to watch as a fan was highly anticipated.
Arriving in the press box to a sea of familiar faces, I got a sense many were both nervous as well as anxious for the quarterfinal matchup between the Trojans and Chargers, and with good reason.
A little more than a month ago the Dyersburg edged Covington in a classic region contest where the Charger team as well as the vocal fan base believed a bad call near the end of the game led to their demise.
On Friday night they made the short trip up Hwy.51 looking for redemption, one of the reasons for the nervousness felt in the press box. Walking inside I was greeted by my good friend Charles Dawson, by far the best radio broadcaster I've ever heard call a game. Dawson immediately asked if I was nervous, to which I responded "heck no, let's get it on."
Evidently, the Trojans and Chargers shared my sentiment as both were ready to go when it came time for the opening kickoff. As the game got underway I was amazed at just how evenly matched both teams where on both sides of the ball. I realized rather quickly the game was going to be a classic, and it was going to a tight contest from start to finish.
Perched in the corner of the press box I couldn't help but notice a sign across the way put up by some of the Charger faithful aimed at Trojan kicker Grant Self. The sign read "Hey #13 Don't Slip Again." The sign was in reference to the first game between the two teams when the Trojans benefitted from a roughing the kicker penalty late in the game, one Dyersburg won, 29-22.
Perhaps because I saw the sign all night long, the more it caught my eye the more I hoped it would be a Self field goal that ended Covington's season. No flags, no penalties, just a young man doing what he practiced every day to one day do for the last several years.
The problem with that is the Trojans simply don't kick field goals, never. The thought of the game coming down to the right foot of the senior did make me nervous due to knowing head coach Bart Stowe just never calls for a field goal.
As the game continued to be knotted at 14-14 throughout the second half, honestly it became clear to me Self was going to have a say in the outcome, and that did make me nervous.
In overtime after Covington scored and missed the extra-point conversion, I actually laughed at myself knowing what I had been thinking was about to come to fruition.
However, the Trojans had to score first.
Taking the ball from the 10-yard line, the Trojans scored three plays later when Darius Harris plowed his way into the end zone from three yards out. Talk about a young man that deserved to be in that situation after all he has been through in the past few years, but that's a story in itself we'll bring to you later next week.
When Harris scored to knot the game, my nerves immediately went away knowing without a doubt Self was about to send the Trojans to the Music City and a state semifinal berth against East Nashville, by nailing the extra point.
Before he did so, I looked at that sign one more time.
Self didn't slip, but he did split the uprights to cap off an awesome high school football game as Dyersburg punched it's ticket for just the fourth time in school history to compete in the state semifinal.
Standing near the exit as the Trojan faithful rushed the field, exuberant with emotion, I was smiling and began to walk away headed to the parking lot. As I passed a couple of Covington fans, I felt the need to say "good game." The couple was respectful in defeat, acknowledging the fact the better team won on Friday.
I really like when people are honest and don't make excuses.
Now, it's time for me to be honest about something.
During the regular season game, I thought and even told some folks I believed Covington was just a little bit better than Dyersburg, despite the Trojans winning the contest.
At times, and it's not often, I really like to be wrong and this is one of those times.
The best team one on Friday. There wasn't an ounce of controversy. Just two evenly matched teams playing the game with the better team coming out on top.
Congratulations to the entire team, the coaching staff, and to Trojan Nation for showing up and showing out.
Next week will come and we'll hit the road attempting to win a football game and advance to play the Alabama of high school football, Alcoa, in the state championship.
It just doesn't get much better than that.
See you at the game!