At the start of every season, every team, every player, every coach dreams of playing on Thanksgiving weekend, in the State Finals. Everyone spends an entire season trying to prepare for that ‘win or go home’ time known as “tournament.” Yes, there are many lessons learned throughout the year, there are many ups and downs with wins and losses, many surprises – both good (surprisingly good play from players) and bad (injuries and illnesses). But then the tourney begins, the pressure starts to build. For some teams, they take that first snap with little hope that they will move on but still wish for a few bounces to fall their way. For other teams, there is an expectation that they will go far. But, as with any sport, games must be played because what’s written on paper doesn’t necessarily mean all that much.
Eastbrook started the postseason with the momentum of the regular season pushing hard. With the exception of only one loss, our Panthers knew they had yet to be truly tested. The first test was a mental one, beating Winchester in round 2 and shaking the memories of the end of last season. Then, traveling to Elwood, our men needed to look beyond their regular season victory and realize those points don’t carry over into a postseason contest. The next week, South Adams came to town and gave the Panthers a healthy dose of anxiety with some late 4th quarter plays. But, again, the 2016 Eastbrook team met the challenge with big stops and cool heads.
Last weekend, we made a long trek to the shore of Lake Michigan, weaved around the oil refineries and fought in the wind and the cold with a strong Whiting team. Two early Panther scores let everyone know we COULD win this game but there was plenty of football yet to be played. In the 4th quarter, with the score tied, our Panthers’ defense was fighting to hold its ground on a 3rd and 1, then a 4th and 1. Two big stops and the ball changed hands with a minute and a half left. Questions were racing through everyone’s mind… How would this end? Would we go to overtime? Would we be attempting a field goal with seconds left? But two big runs put the Panthers in a position where they would not be denied and with 38 seconds left, our Panthers moved the line of scrimmage enough to allow the opening to throw that knockout punch.
The clock wound down and the celebration started – THE EASTBROOK PANTHERS WERE GOING TO STATE! For the second time in school history, a football team from this little school in the middle of farm country was going to carry the pride of a number of supportive communities to Indianapolis with a chance to be crowned champion.
So here we are. For all high school football teams, the season ends this weekend. The pressure to ‘get here’ is off as everyone IS here. Everyone plays their last game of 2016 in a matter of hours. It’s an incredible honor to be here, that cannot be denied. However…
Gents, as you heard last week, the times you get to see life from the inside of a helmet, over a face mask are limited. For a number of players, this will be the last time. After the clock on Friday hits 0:00, uniforms, pads, and helmets will be turned in. Cleats will be put back in the closet and the next chapter of life will begin. So WHY NOT finish with a bang?!? Why not end this season knowing that this last game with the view from behind a face mask was the best effort you could possibly give? Why not play, yet again, with the intense honor of playing the game? Know that the fans in black support you and are proud of you! You’ve given us a great season and we are honored that you let us come along for the fantastic ride!!!
Finally, for the rest of readers here, don’t wait to find out the final score of Friday’s game through a text or the paper. Put your black fan gear on and join the thousands of Panther fans that will be cheering (and ringing) LOUDLY for this incredible group of young men. Then feel free to stick around for ANOTHER black and red, Panther squad, the Northwood Panthers, who will play immediately after us. Last week we teamed up for the Panther invasion of northwest Indiana. This Friday, we combine for the Panther invasion at Lucas Oil Stadium. You don’t want to miss the excitement that is sure to be packed into this day!
-article by Todd Syswerda