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Authors: Matt Christopher

Catch That Pass! (3 page)

BOOK: Catch That Pass!

“Boy, you pulled a good one then!” Hook stormed. “A fifteen-yard penalty puts them on our two!”

“I can count,” said Jim lamely.

Bucky slapped him on the back. “Forget it and let’s hold ’em.”

Jim glanced at Hook, anxious to redeem himself. “Hook, let’s red-dog ’em again.”

Hook frowned, thinking hard. “Okay,” he agreed. “Red dog!”

They blasted through the line like fearless commandos and broke up Tom Willis’s quarterback sneak. The ref placed the ball
on the four-yard line. It was second and goal.

Willis took the snap and faded back. The red dog wasn’t on now. Jim, breaking toward the line, cut back sharply as he saw
the fullback swing around right end and buttonhook in behind the line of scrimmage. Willis passed just as Jim moved. The ball
came floating through the air. Jim caught it on the run, bolted toward the left side of the line, and ran as he had never
run before. No one was near him.

Seconds later he crossed the goal line for the touchdown. Bucky was the first to jump on him for the team hug. From the stands
the Vulcan fans were whooping it up.

Hook kicked the conversion. Seven to nothing.


ook Wheeler kicked off. The Astrojets’ left safety man caught the ball on the twenty-two, and Marv Wallace brought him down
on the twenty-eight.

“Seventy-eight yards!” Bucky grinned at Jim. “You ran like a scared jackrabbit along that sideline!”

“I wasn’t going to let anybody get me,” said Jim, smiling. Boy, scoring that touchdown at the crucial moment made him feel
great. That ought to shut up Dil and Hook
for a while. Chuckie Gorman had seen it, too. He was sitting near the stands among the other Vulcan fans.

“Nineteen! Thirty-four! Twenty-one! Hike! Hike! Hike!”

Tom Willis faded back, then handed off to his fullback, and the guy plowed through left tackle for four yards. On the next
play, Marv Wallace got too anxious and was offside before the ball was snapped. The five-yard penalty put the ball on the
Astrojets’ thirty-seven.

Second and one.

Willis bucked for two yards and a first down.

A double reverse gave the Astrojets five more yards. They were moving. A red dog on the next play held them to a two-yard
gain. Then the fullback took a pitchout and raced down the right sideline. Left end Ben
Trainor chased after him. The runner tried to stiff-arm Ben and crept closer to the white line. He took two steps out of bounds.
Then Ben nailed him.

! The ref stood on the spot inside the boundary line where the runner had stepped out of bounds and signaled the personal
foul sign.

Ben sprang to his feet and stared at him. “Personal foul?” he shouted. “Why?”

“For tackling him out of bounds,” explained the ref. He stepped off fifteen yards and placed the ball on the sixteen. “First
and ten!” he yelled.

The Astrojets lost two yards on a line buck, and a whistle shrilled, announcing the end of the first quarter. The teams exchanged
goals, and the ball was put on the Vulcans’ eighteen.

Second and twelve.

Tom Willis barked signals. The ball was snapped. Willis faked a handoff to his left halfback, then faded back. Jim pushed
aside a blocker on his way after the quarterback, but stopped on a dime as he saw Willis pull back his arm and wing a pass.
The ball was a high looping spiral to his left side, and intended for a receiver button-hooking in. The receiver was running
between Jim and the ball. He was about to catch it when Jim leaped and batted it down.

“Way to go, Jim!” yelled Bucky Hayes.

“My eye. He could’ve caught it.”

Jim turned. Dil Gorman was walking away, kicking the sod with his heels. Jim looked back at the spot where he had knocked
down the ball. There had been no one in front of him, no one near him except the intended receiver. Yes, he could’ve intercepted
the pass. Could’ve made a good gain. And it would’ve been the Vulcans’ ball.

Ronnie Holmes came in. Jim went out.

“No one was near you that time,” said Doug coldly. “You could’ve run a long way. Maybe all the way.”

Jim’s heart pounded. “I didn’t think,” he said.

“You weren’t scared of being tackled?”

Jim stared at him. His pulse raced. “No.” So Doug knew. He had probably known all along.

A roar burst from the Astrojet fans. Jim saw a player in a black-and-white uniform in a corner of the Vulcans’ end zone. He
had tossed the football up into the air and was jumping madly, as if he had just scored a touchdown. Which he had.

They tried the conversion, and missed.

Jim chewed his lips. “I suppose you won’t let me go in again.”

“Sure, I will,” replied Doug. “Something tells me that you need to play until you get that feeling knocked out of you, one
way or another.”


im went in during the four-minute time period. The Astrojets had the ball on their thirty-eight. It was second and eight.

So Doug knew about me, Jim thought. Yet he hasn’t bawled me out. He really wasn’t mad at me when he told me I’ll play until
that feeling gets knocked out of me. I guess I don’t understand my own brother.

The Astrojets tried an off-tackle play and picked up a first down.

“We better stop ’em,” said Hook, “or we’ll blow that seven to six lead.”

The Astrojets pulled a surprise pass on the
first down that took them to the Vulcans’ eighteen. It was an eleven-yard gain and another first down. A line buck and then
a double reverse got them six more. Then they tried a pass. It was a wobbly one, falling far short of the intended receiver.
Hook Wheeler pulled it down, dodged an Astrojet tackle, and sprinted down the sideline for thirty-four yards before he was
bumped out of bounds.

The offense took over, but they couldn’t get the ball past the Astrojets’ ten-yard line before the first half ended.

The Vulcans kicked off to start the second half. The kick was poor. The ball hit the ground on the forty-yard line and bounced
to the thirty, where an Astrojet scooped it up and carried it back to the Vulcans’ thirty-eight. Jim hit him there like a

“What a funny one you are,” Hook said to Jim, cracking a grin, a sight almost as rare as
hen’s teeth. “You tackle like nobody’s business. But when you have the ball, you’re scared stiff of somebody tackling
. I can’t figure it.”

Jim shrugged. “I’ll get over it.”

“You think so?”

Jim started away. “I think so,” he said over his shoulder.

The teams formed at the line of scrimmage. Tom Willis barked signals. Jim shifted back and forth in the middle linebacker
slot, anxious to burst through and haul down the ballcarrier. Hook was right. He wasn’t afraid to tackle. As a matter of fact

The snap from center. Jim tore through the line. Amid the loud noise of shouts and of helmets thudding against helmets and
shoulder pads, Jim heard a shrill sound. But he was springing forward. And suddenly he was falling on Tom Willis, falling
on him hard.


Jim rolled off Tom and looked up at the ref, who was crouched above him, finger pointed at him like the tip of a sword. “Fifteen
yards! Didn’t you hear the whistle?”

Jim stared. “No! What did I do?”

“You were piling on, son.”

“Oh man, oh man!” cried Hook, stamping his feet.

The ref picked up the ball, stepped off fifteen yards from where the violation took place, and spotted the ball on the Vulcans’

“Jim,” said Bucky Hayes, “how do you get the knack of always doing the wrong thing at the wrong time?”

“Guess I’m just plain lucky,” Jim answered, then frowned in bewilderment. “But I still don’t know what happened, Bucky!”

“You don’t? Willis had fumbled the ball.
And then you jumped on him. That’s what happened, man.”

First and ten. The Astrojets tried an end-around run and picked up two. Then the fullback found a hole through right tackle
and gained seven.

“They need a yard for a first down,” said Bucky. “Think they’ll try a sneak?”

“Who knows?” said Hook.

It was a forward pass to their left end. And it was a good one. Their end caught the ball on the run and went over easily
for their second touchdown.

“Guess they pulled a sneak, all right,” said Bucky sourly. “A sneaky pass.”

“Yeah,” grumbled Hook.

This time the kick was good. Astrojets 13, Vulcans 7.

The third quarter ended with the Vulcans in possession of the ball on their own eighteen.

Fourth quarter. Chris Howe faded back to pass but couldn’t find a receiver and was tackled on the twelve.

“Move out there, Pete!” yelled Doug. “Buttonhook!”

Second and sixteen.

Chris faded back again. This time Pete buttonhooked in behind the scrimmage line, but his guard closed in on him like a hawk.
Chris heaved the ball. It spiraled through the air toward the left sideline. Left halfback Mike Ritter grabbed it out of the
air and streaked to the Astrojets’ twenty-three before he was pulled down.

The Vulcan fans roared. Bucky drummed on Mike’s helmet excitedly.

“Beautiful!” said Doug.

Chris took the snap, faked a handoff to Mike, then faded back. He looked for a receiver. Every eligible man was covered.

“Uh-oh,” mumbled Bucky. “He’s going to get creamed.”

An Astrojet tackle went after the quarterback. Chris dodged him and started to run toward the right side of the line. Right
guard Roger Lacey blocked his man. Ronnie Holmes threw a block on the Astrojet end, clearing the way for Chris. Chris crossed
the twenty … the fifteen … and was tackled on the twelve. It was another first down.

“That’s my boy!” yelled Bucky.

Jim smiled. “Thought he was going to get creamed?”

The snap. Chris faked a handoff to Mike, then gave the ball to Ronnie. The fullback plowed through the right tackle for two
yards. They tried a buck through the left side and gained two more. Then Chris threw a quickie over the line of scrimmage.
Ken Morris caught it and was tackled on the spot.

Fourth and two.

“Hold that line!” shouted the Astrojet fans. “Hold that line!”

From the Vulcans came the cry, “Goal! Goal! Goal!”

Then silence as Chris barked signals. He caught the snap, faded back, passed. It was knocked down.

“He should’ve run with it!” cried Bucky.

“Okay, defense!” yelled Doug. “Get in there! And get back that ball!”

They got the ball back all right. And they kept it for quite a while, too. But not long enough. Time ran out, and the game
went to the Astrojets, 13–7.

“We should’ve won it,” said Jim disappointedly. “We were better than they were. Lots better.”

They were riding home. Jim’s mom was in
the front seat with his dad, Karen in back with Doug and Jim.

“It might have helped if you hadn’t turned into stone every time you intercepted a pass,” said Doug softly.

Jim stiffened. Mom looked over her shoulder. Her eyes were hurt. “Now, Doug.”

“I’m sorry,” said Doug. “I should’ve saved that till we were on the field.”

“That’s okay,” said Jim, looking out of the window at the houses but not really seeing them. “You’re right. I do turn to stone.”

“You do not!” Karen cried. “And you played a good game!”

“Of course you did, Jim,” Mom said. “You played fine.”

“Don’t get sore at Doug, Jim,” Dad added, looking at Jim’s reflection in the rearview mirror. “He said it because he
wants to see where you can improve. He didn’t say it to hurt you or humiliate you.”

“For crying out loud, who’s sore?” Jim cried angrily.
! He was glad when they finally got home.

He was eating supper when the phone rang. “Jim, this is Bucky. Got a minute?”

“I’m eating,” said Jim.

“Okay. Come over when you finish. Got something to show you.”

“Okay” said Jim. He hung up, wondering: What did Bucky want to show him, anyway?


ucky opened the large, black scrapbook. Printed in white ink on the inside cover was the inscription:
This scrapbook belongs to William G. Hayes

“Bill has kept this up since he was a freshman in high school,” Bucky explained proudly. “Didn’t Doug keep a scrapbook?”

Jim flipped through the pages and saw that the scrapbook contained only pictures and clippings on sports. Bill played baseball,
football, and basketball and participated in track. He was quite an athlete.

“Yes, Doug’s got a sports scrapbook. But I
think he started it when he was a junior. Is this what you wanted to show me?”

“Well — not exactly.” Bucky sat back in the chair while Jim read a caption under a picture of Bill in football uniform. Bills
right foot was high in the air, as if he had just kicked a football. “Lancey High’s scrappy halfback, Bill Hayes, will be
a key man in the game against Beacon City tomorrow afternoon,” he read.

Bucky looked directly at him. “Did Doug ever say anything to you?”

Jim frowned and pulled the scrapbook off the table and onto his lap. “Say what? For crying out loud, Bucky, what’re you so
mysterious about? If you have something to tell me, tell me, will you?”

Bucky took a deep breath and let it out. He took the scrapbook, flipped some pages, stopped at one near the middle, and placed
the book on Jim’s lap. “Does Doug have that
clipping in his scrapbook?” he asked, pointing at the newspaper write-up on the left side.

“Inexperienced receivers cause of loss,” Jim read aloud.

You can blame inexperience of receivers in the Lancey Bobcats’ 30 to 7 crushing defeat Saturday night at Croton in front of
a capacity crowd.

Coach Stan Wilbur’s high hopes for linebacker Doug Nardi, a sophomore, have failed to materialize. Nardi is fast, has large
hands, and can catch a football like a veteran. But put an opponent near him when he does, and zowie! He’ll drop the ball.

The fear of being tackled is nothing unusual. The boy has great potential. Cappie Morse, former All-American linebacker now
with the Bears, practically froze into a statue every time he intercepted a pass. He almost quit, but his coach had faith
him. He liked everything else Cappie did. It took Cappie a year to get over it.

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