They Were Opportune in Every Way

The captains played a big role: Sam Tiller (48), Titus Hood (36), Brooks Seawright (55), Cameron Nichols (10) played a role. (Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, October 6, 2018, 11:53 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

It’s been unusual this fall to feel upbeat on Saturday mornings.

Every high school football team in this county is 2-5. Fortunately, the one I watched last night was the one that won its Homecoming game, which all three had. It’s the one from which I graduated during better football times.

By the time Clinton had finished defeating Mid-Carolina 21-8, to borrow the term used occasionally in these parts, I was “’bout near wore out.”

I hurt my knee Wednesday doing nothing more strenuous than getting into my pickup. When I stepped up and pushed with my left left, I felt the knee buckle a little. It may have made a little click. It didn’t hurt at the time, but I knew it would, and the next time I sat down for a while – writers often sit down for a while – it would be hard to get out of the chair.

It doesn’t happen often. Both knees are bad. The left one is a freak with a demented sense of humor.

Homecoming meant I went out at 4 p.m. to shoot photos of the Homecoming Parade, which I really enjoyed in spite of the limp. Nothing enhances my mood like the vitality of kids.

All the time on the Wilder Stadium sidelines, shooting more photos in the old yard’s crummy lights, was a burden. By the time I got through writing about the game, processing many, many photos of pretty girls in sports cars, ballplayers occasionally unblurred by the conditions of light, and the shock of the beauty who found herself a queen, it was approximately oh-dark-30, but I felt better when I awakened, and I feel even better now.

I’ve spent an hour playing guitar, Texas and Oklahoma are playing, NASCAR is at Dover and the Red Sox staved off the Yankees last night.

As the Statler Brothers sang, “Uh, don’t tell me … I’ve nothing to do.”

Presbyterian College is likely doomed to defeat in Kennesaw, Georgia, near where Larry Woody and I once walked the Civil War battlefield. Laurens District High fell to Woodmont in a game I thought it would win. Richard Winn Academy spoiled Laurens Academy’s Homecoming.

The Red Devils, though. They won. I remembered how we used to sing the alma mater when we drove through the gates after a road victory. I remembered how a gully washer hit during warm-ups before our Homecoming game against Clover, and how, once the sun came out and the game began, the Blue Eagles ran back the opening kickoff for a touchdown … and then we hammered ’em.

Billy Joe Shaver wrote a song that said, “Was that only yesterday or was it over 20 years ago?”

Try 43. I’m Richard Pettyed away from playing high school football. Age 17 seems nicer now than it really was. It was good, though. Really good.

What I learned from my high school coach – and this was even when I was in high school – was that a key to success is never having to make up one’s mind about anything. Sometimes I couldn’t do it, but I always knew what to do. I have enough recollection of 17 that I still understand that if a kid of that age makes up his mind about anything, he will likely screw up.

My coach sometimes said, “If you must make a mistake, at least make it full speed.”

I’m still a full-speed mistake maker, one whose left knee likes to play tricks.

What didn’t change for Clinton was a penchant for disaster. The Red Devils, too, made a lot of full-speed mistakes.

“Sometimes I can’t believe what my eyes see,” said head coach Andrew Webb later.

A roughing-the-punter penalty elicited a strange sound from the home grandstands. I think it was the sound of several thousand people yelling, “Why? Why? Why?” at the same time.

It was sort of a flat version of George Jones singing, “Tell me why, baby, why baby, why, baby, why, you make me cry, baby, cry, baby, cry, baby, cry?”

I’ve never seen Webb so angry and frustrated on the sideline.

What did change was that, for every fumbled hand-off, silly penalty and turnover, Clinton made a clutch play.

Sam Tiller averted disaster when a low punt snap tumbled around at his feet, and by the time he secured it, the planned punt was no longer an option. As he sprinted toward me, down the sideline, he looked exactly like the soccer player that he also is, only he was carrying the ball. He picked up 16 yards on fourth-and-12.

After Mid-Carolina tied the score, Titus Hood made a 33-yard kickoff return that set up Cameron Nichols’ 20-yard touchdown pass to Elijah Campbell seven plays later.

Campbell made a splendid catch in a season full of catches that could have been splendid but weren’t quite.

Have they crossed a bar? Have they found that elusive knack for winning? Clinton will be hard-pressed to win any of the remaining three games: Newberry, Emerald, Woodruff.

Two of them are home, though, on Richardson Field, with a banner on the fence listing the seasons of glory.

Also, when I was in high school, I sang in a church chorus, and one of the songs we performed began, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going.”

Last night’s game may not turn the season around, but there’s got to be an effect. For a night, the Red Devils learned how to pull one out.


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(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

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About Monte

For 20 seasons, I mostly wrote about NASCAR. I'm still paying attention, but I'm spending more of my time these days writing novels and songs. I try to blog regularly on whatever happens to strike my fancy.
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