The saying goes that "sports can be cruel." Anyone who has witnessed Calallen's football history in the State Semifinals can attest to that, moreso after what happened this past Saturday in the Alamodome.
With the odds against them, Calallen had a seven-point lead and the football. But then the cruelty of the sports gods emerged.
Manvel later tied the game, which appeared head for overtime. With no time left, Calallen had tackled the ball carrier. Everyone was set for overtime in what had already been a thrilling contest.
Then there was that little yellow flag sitting in the middle of the field.
It's hard to imagine that something so cruel could happen. Calallen had already overcome so much. Early in the year they had to battle injuries and rely on new players to carry things. Aside from their season opener, they hadn't been challenged all season until the third round of the playoffs. Then they lost quarterback Preston Dorsey to injury (again) right as they were about to tango with their toughest opponent yet.
Coach Phil Danaher had to significantly alter his offensive gameplan. Marcus Price had to run coast-to-coast twice to keep the pressure on the Mavericks. Backup quarterback Andrew McCurley had to convert two crucial third downs. Linebacker Tate Bammert had to force a fumble and sack the mobile Julian Walker on back-to-back plays. The Calallen secondary had to cover and shut down the fastest and biggest receivers they've seen all year.
They did it all. And yet, that little yellow flag made it all for naught.
When I look at the stats, it amazes me. It's true, Manvel was bigger and faster. The stats attest to that, as they outplayed the 'Cats. But Calallen's discipline and will to win were enough to get them to State.
I often get annoyed watching football these days. How many times have games been significantly altered because of a questionable yellow flag?
The rules argue safety. Helmet-to-helmet contact is dangerous. It's hard to argue otherwise.
But how many times has that rule been enforced on what appears to be the plain physical nature of the game?
After the game, I asked Coach Danaher what he thought. He told me that it was a shame that the game came down to a judgement call. The kids should have determined the game on the field. Shortly after that, I overheard a cameraman from a high school football Web site say the same thing.
What I find most interesting about this is that anyone who shares that logic would never admit that one school would have won the game had the flag not been thrown.
I certainly won't. While I certainly wanted the team in our community to go to the State Championship, I won't say Calallen would have won if it wasn't for that flag. Nor will I say Manvel would have either.
While the school and community of Manvel will deservedly go to Cowboy's Stadium next week with this far from their minds, the players and fans of Calallen will have to ponder why something so cruel happened when they had already overcome so much.
You can't blame the opponent. You can't blame the referee for having to do his job. You can't blame anyone really. You can only ask why something will always be tainted.
I would personally like to congratulate the Calallen football program on another great season. There's certainly nothing to be ashamed of.