WARNER ROBINS -- Sometimes what makes sports so great can also make them so utterly devastating.
You have these stranger-than-fiction moments that every fan can quickly cite about their team: the miraculous play to win the game or the gut-wrenching mistake that cost a team a chance at victory.
Both took place Friday night at McConnell-Talbert Stadium, and Tucker’s miraculous play became Northside’s punch to the gut.
The margin for error in sports is often razor-thin, and slightest miscalculation can prove costly: a curveball that's a little too flat; a deep jumpshot that catches just a snippet of the iron; a bad handoff exchange with a fortuitous bounce.
With Northside going in for an almost certain game-clinching score, Tucker senior Justin Rivers picked up a fumble in his own end zone and raced 100 yards for a game-tying touchdown. The ensuing extra point would be enough for a 17-16 Tucker win.
I’ve seen a few hundred high school football games, but I’ve never seen a team lose like Northside did Friday.
After trailing 10-7 for half of the game, Northside’s offense starting clicking. The Eagles scored a touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter to take a 14-10 lead.
The momentum carried over to the defense, which started controlling the line of scrimmage. The defense pinned Tucker back inside its own 1-yard line, and the Tigers took an intentional safety rather than risk a bad snap or blocked punt that could result in a Northside touchdown.
After the free kick, Northside used a beautiful play-action fake to move the ball down to the Tucker 1-yard line once again. But Marte Polk, who it should be noted also scored a 94-yard touchdown in the game, lost the ball, and Rivers went racing the other way.
The only sound I can remember hearing in the press box was someone yelling, “No, no, no, no,” repeatedly as Rivers rumbled for the score.
If that ball pops any other place than Rivers’ hands, it’s pretty unlikely that Tucker scores there, not with the way the Northside defense had turned the game around.
“It just happened,” Northside head coach Kevin Kinsler said. “You can sit there and analyze it, but it just happened. ... The ball bounced funny. It’s one of those things. You just can’t explain a play like that.”
The Tucker coaches know all too well the empty feeling of losing a heartbreaker. A costly fumble returned for a touchdown knocked them out of the playoffs a year ago. They also can go back to their 2007 loss to Northside when the Eagles’ rallied from a three-touchdown deficit to earn a spot in the state championship game,
“If you’re around this game long enough, then you’ll see it all,” Tucker head coach Franklin Stephens said. “You just don’t want to give up.”
Stephens went down to a knee after shaking hands with Kinsler at midfield. More Tucker players were crying than were not. The tears were a pretty common sight on the faces of the Northside players, too.
Those Tucker players will never forget those tears and that jubilation. The Northside players won’t forget either, even though they’d probably give anything to.
And that’s sports.
Celebration and devastation.
It all just depends on which side you’re sitting on.
Contact Jonathan Heeter at 744-4400 or email@example.com