Newberry, South Carolina, Saturday, November 19, 2016, 11:56 a.m.
Years ago, Carson-Newman had just finished defeating Presbyterian in football, and I remember Cally Gault walking through the ranks of the Blue Hose as they filed from the field in Jefferson City to the locker room across a muddy lot from the stadium.
Coach Gault, by then the athletics director, had one message: “You beat Wofford, you beat Newberry, it’s a good year.”
So I find myself on a clear, breezy day at Setzler Field at Newberry College, one of the outposts in the extinct rivalry between PC and Newberry. The Bronze Derby now seems like a relic of the Bronze Age.
I haven’t been at Setzler Field in … let me think … when was it? It’s been well over a month.
Okay, I watched Hartsville play Abbeville on this field, which was deemed a high school neutral site. Before that, it had been roughly 20 years. Even while the Blue Hose and (then) Indians were still playing, I was off writing about cars going around and around.
What made me think about Coach Gault’s words this morning was the outcome of last night’s Clinton High game. The Red Devils finished 5-6, made the Class 3A playoffs as a No. 3 seed, lost to a 2, Chester, 24-16, in the first round and bowed out brimming with hope for next year.
This is the amended mantra that constitutes the common ground between the Blue Hose and Red Devils. For the high school in Clinton, “You beat Laurens, you beat Woodruff, it’s a good year.”
I was in Laurens, watching the Raiders’ gradual, pitiless, 35-7 destruction of Woodmont, a school that went home from the Class 5A playoffs with a 3-8 record. Laurens is 6-5, but the Raiders won their region, 2-5A, and Laurens hasn’t claimed such a distinction in more than 20 years, so, undoubtedly, in the thoughts of those wearing green and gold, winning a region, and advancing to a second-round home game against Spartanburg, will atone for what now seems like the long-ago setback to Clinton.
Having moved from Newberry College to Presbyterian College (whose football team is currently located in Mobile, Alabama, for no good reason) to Clinton High School to Laurens District High School to …
… Newberry College (10-1) is advancing toward the Tuskegee University goal in the first drive of the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs. The Golden Tigers (8-2) are from Alabama, about 45 miles from Montgomery, not to mention the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Now, as my consciousness streams, Newberry leads, 3-0.
Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, November 20, 2016, 10:10 a.m.
Oh, woe is Newberry. Tuskegee edged the (now) Wolves, 35-33, on one of the more beautiful afternoons that ever wound up breaking hearts. After winning 10 consecutive games, coming from behind in four of them, the Wolves failed on two late drives – one with sufficient time, the other without – and Tuskegee will move on to Tigerville next week, there to face another South Carolina school, North Greenville.
My principal task at Newberry was to wrap the game around a feature on a Newberry defensive end named Jaquille Oden, who made a key fourth-down stop that gave the Wolves their last plausible shot at victory.
The Newberry quarterback who played most of the game had completed one pass during the regular season. Braxton Ivery caught 54 passes. In fact, he even caught one on Saturday. The Offensive Player of the Year in the South Atlantic Conference, one Raleigh Yeldell, and three less crucial others didn’t get to play because they had run afoul of team rules. Running afoul of “team rules” is the broad term analogous to “actions detrimental to the sport of NASCAR.”
The simple response of Newberry College’s football team to its misfortune was impressive. When the horn sounded, and further ambitions evaporated, the players didn’t dissolve in tears. They milled around for a long time, greeting parents and friends and congratulating their Tuskegee counterparts, and the ones invited by the NCAA to the media conferences were proud and stoic. Whatever medicine the suspended players took was shared, in a sense, by all.
Todd Knight, the head coach, has an inspirational bent to him, like many coaches, and the rising tide of his last three seasons – 5-6, 7-5, 10-2 – is testimony to his sincerity.
The outcome notwithstanding, I had a lovely time at tiny Setzler Field, which has changed little if at all in the five decades in which I have attended occasional games there. The 2,382 who paid their way in got a bargain. The company was good in the press box. Only a few small clouds ever drifted by. The trees ringing the grounds were in full fall color, mostly yellow with a few bursts of orange. When I left, it was dark, and I turned out the lights in the press box, walked laterally across the artificial playing surface and peered at all that was left glowing, a wolf howling atop the scoreboard.
Then I stopped off on the way back up U.S. 76 at Wise’s Barbecue, another welcome blast from my past. The young girl who kept asking me if I needed any more iced tea apologized that the chicken and ribs had run out before I got there. I told her it was all right, and if I’d eaten as much chicken and ribs as I did chopped pork and hash, she’d have probably had to call 911.
When I got home, nothing on TV came anywhere close to what I’d seen in front of 2,382 paid. Clemson, Oklahoma, Washington and, surprisingly, Vanderbilt, were all mopping up. I spent most of the evening reading a book about men and women going over Niagara Falls in barrels.
The Clinton Red Devils and the Newberry Wolves have honorably ended their football seasons. The Furman Paladins and Presbyterian Blue Hose expired in sorrowful wonder over what might have been. The Laurens Raiders move on.
The colleges have already started playing basketball, and the high schools will be at it soon.
Shed no tears for football, though. The nouveau riche who play it professionally will keep on keeping on well into the New Year, only a bit longer than the process that determines which college team will finally lose to Alabama.
It won’t be long until the remaining college football rivalries lead into a state of affairs where a Texas Tech plays a Minnesota in a McCullough Chainsaws Timberrrrr! Bowl in the Lesser Antilles every weekday night and three or four times on Saturdays.
Stop by L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton and buy one of my novels. Buy Cowboys Come Home, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Crazy of Natural Causes, The Intangibles, and/or a volume of my short stories, Longer Songs.
Kindle versions – you don’t have to have a Kindle, just a free app for your electronic devices – of most of my books are available here. Links to print copies are below.
Cowboys Come Home is my brand-new, fresh-off-the-press western, a tale of two World War II veterans of the Pacific who come back home to Texas, intent on resuming their cowboy ways.
Forgive Us Our Trespasses is the latest. It’s a tale about a crooked politician who wants to be governor, whatever it takes, and another man trying to stop him. It’s outrageous.
Crazy of Natural Causes is about the fall and rise of Chance Benford, a Kentucky football coach who reinvents himself. It’s original.
The Intangibles is about the South in the 1960s, complete with racial strife, bigotry, resentment, cultural exchange and, of course, high school football.
The Audacity of Dope is the tale of Riley Mansfield, a pot-smoking songwriter turned national hero with a taste for the former and a distaste for the latter.
Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories that all began in songs I wrote.