Authors: Matt Christopher
Ronnie Holmes booted the extra point. In the third quarter, Ronnie broke through right tackle for a gain that put the Vulcans
on the Cadets’ nine-yard line. On the next play, Ronnie took the handoff from Chris, faked a run to the right, and handed
off to right end Pete Witz. Pete bolted around left end for a yard gain.
Chris tried a pass. It was intercepted! The man was downed almost on the spot. The Cadets moved down the field like a steamroller
till they crossed the goal line for another touchdown. The try for point was good, and they led 27–7.
Chris scored on a quarterback sneak in the fourth quarter, and Ronnie kicked the extra point. But that was all the Vulcans
could do. The Cadets captured their fourth game in a row to take top spot in the league.
“Well, no one can blame
for our losing today,” said Chuckie as Jim walked alongside the wheelchair being pushed by Chuckie’s father. “The Cadets
were just on.”
“We have two more games to play, and well win ’em,” said Jim confidently. “You’ll see. And I’m going to be in them. I’m going
to be in them every minute I can.”
im practiced with the squad on Monday. During scrimmage he wished a pass would be thrown to some receiver near him so he could
test himself. He wasn’t worried a bit about his burned arm. His mom had put ointment and a clean bandage on it. He felt brand-new
He didn’t get a chance to intercept a pass. Doug praised him though on breaking through the line and bringing down the ballcarrier.
“Just running last week seems to have done you good, Jim,” he said. “You’ve picked up speed.”
“Know what happened?” broke in Bucky Hayes. “He skidded on a banana peel and got banana oil on his knee joints.”
Doug chuckled. “Pardon me for that
of laughter,” he punned. “Okay, let’s try a couple more plays. Then run around the field twice and we’ll call it quits.”
Practice proceeded normally on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday Jim’s wish was answered. Chris Howe, quarterbacking for
the offense, faded back a few steps after the snap from center and pulled back his arm. Jim, starting through the line, saw
the move and stopped. He looked to his right. No man was waiting for a short pass there, but the left end was running deep.
Jim looked to his left. The right end was racing down toward the corner pocket. But another man, Ronnie Holmes, was button-hooking
Chris lobbed a pass. Jim sprang. He
leaped high and caught the ball. As he came down with it, he saw Ronnie diving at him. He gripped the ball hard, shut his
eyes, and braced himself.
And then Ronnie hit him. The blow felt like an explosion. He went down, still gripping the ball, with Ronnie’s arm like a
vice around his waist. He lay there a moment, then opened his eyes. Ronnie got off him.
“You lucky stiff,” he muttered.
Jim fixed a smile on his face. He tossed the ball up to Doug and climbed to his feet. He had done it. He had intercepted a
pass, was tackled, and still had hung on to the ball. Sure he had gotten scared. Sure he had almost fallen to pieces. But
he hadn’t. He had made it.
He was in the lineup Saturday. The Vulcans were playing the Astrojets, who had won two games and lost two. They were steamed
up for another win. The Cadets had first place cinched, but second place was still open.
Ronnie Holmes and Tom Willis, the teams’ captains for today’s game, were on the middle of the field. They watched the referee
toss the coin. They looked at it on the ground. Then the ref put his hand on Ronnie’s shoulder, indicating that Ronnie had
won the toss. The ref said something to Willis, then trotted to the thirty-yard line and spotted the football on end while
the two captains ran off the field to their respective teams. A moment later, the Vulcans’ offensive unit ran out to the north
side of the field and the Astrojets’ defensive unit ran out to the south side of the field.
The whistle shrilled. The Astrojets kicked off. The ball sailed end over end to the Vulcans’ nineteen. Mike Ritter, the left
took it and galloped for sixteen yards before he was pulled down.
“Let’s win this for Christopher Columbus,” said Bucky, huddled in his poncho against the nippy October air.
Jim frowned. “Why for him?”
“It’s the twelfth,” replied Bucky. “Columbus Day — the day he landed in the New World.”
“Boy! Are you a whiz at history!” said Jim, giving his friend a shove with his elbow.
The Vulcans kept the ball on the ground for their first three plays and gained eight yards. Then Ronnie plowed through center
for three, picking up a first down.
On the first play, Chris Howe faked a handoff to Mike, then flipped a lateral to Ken Morris, who was running behind him from
his right halfback position. Ken took the pitch and bolted around left end.
Ronnie swept in to throw a block on the right linebacker, and Ken raced to the Astrojets’ twenty-four before he was tackled.
The Vulcan fans roared, and Bucky slapped Jim heartily on the back. “Another first down! That was a hot play, man!”
Ronnie bucked, but lost two yards on the play. Mike took a handoff and started a long spurt around right end. The Astrojets’
left line broke through and chased Mike back. He started toward the opposite side of the field, saw two linebackers swooping
at him, and started back the other way.
“Oh, no!” yelled Hook Wheeler, standing at Jim’s left side. “Run forward, you nit! Not backward!”
“Please, somebody, tackle him before he goes into our end zone!” wailed Jim.
Mike was hit on the Vulcans’ thirty-five and was brought down on the thirty-four.
“Good thing that Astrojet wasn’t thinking,” said Jim. “He might’ve scared Mike all the way back to the goalposts.”
Third and thirty-two. Now was the time they needed another hot play. Chris took the snap and faded back. His arm came around.
The ball left his fingers and whipped through the air in a perfect spiral. It sailed over the head and uplifted arms of an
Astrojet safety man and into Ben Trainor’s waiting arms.
Ben pulled the ball to his chest and raced down the field. The safety man gained on him inch by inch, and caught up with him
on the six. Chris bucked for three, then Ronnie plunged over for the touchdown.
“Man, are we hot today!” cried Bucky.
“Chris Columbus will be happy,” said Jim with a smile.
Ronnie kicked for the extra point. It was good. Seven to nothing.
The defense went in, and the offense came out. “Hold ’em, Jim!” a familiar cry rose from the right side of the stands. Jim
waved. I’m going to try, Chuckie! he said to himself.
Hook Wheeler kicked off. The ball sailed through the air, barely turning. An Astrojet back caught it on the twenty-one and
got good blocking as he brought it back up to the thirty-eight. On the first play, Jim bolted after a man who was on the verge
of throwing a block on Marv Wallace, who in turn was within two yards of the ballcarrier.
Jim struck the Astrojet from behind. A flag went down. A couple of seconds later, Marv tackled the runner. The man went down
on the Vulcans’ thirty-one.
The whistle shrilled. Jim, climbing to his feet, saw two flags on the ground and frowned. The ref and an umpire were discussing
something. Then the umpire trotted away, and the ref signaled the clipping motion and pointed at the Vulcans.
“That was you, in case you didn’t know,” Hook Wheeler said to Jim. “Clipping.”
“Who else? Don’t you know you can’t jump on a guy from behind unless he’s carrying the ball?”
The ref stepped off fifteen yards from where the runner was tackled and spotted the ball on the Vulcans’ sixteen. The Astrojets
got into a huddle, then broke out of it and went into formation at the line of scrimmage. Tom Willis barked signals.
“Hup one! Hup two!”
The snap. Willis faded back and lobbed a pass over the scrimmage line to the right. Jim saw it coming and sprang for it. It
was a wobbly pass. It struck his fingers and
bounced to the side. He grappled for it, and in his hurry and fear of losing it, he knocked the ball clumsily to the ground.
Oh, no! he thought despairingly. Oh, no!
He fell to one knee, his head drooping.
econd and ten. Astrojets’ ball.
I’ve got to make up for that muff, thought Jim. I’ve got to. The guys must think I dropped the ball because I was scared.
I wasn’t scared. The ball wobbled too much.
Willis called signals, then took the snap and faded back. Jim drove hard through the line. He kept his head down, just high
enough to see the quarterback’s waist. His padded shoulders thudded against other padded shoulders as he plowed between the
center and tackle and barely missed
stepping on Marv Wallace, who had fallen to his knees.
And then, barely a yard from Willis, Jim dove. He hit the quarterback solidly and knocked him to the ground.
“Hey!” the quarterback shouted.
Jim, lying on top of Willis, knew instantly that something was wrong. Willis was glaring at him. His arms were outflung on
Jim rose bewilderedly to his feet and saw the ref standing only a foot away. At his feet was a red flag.
Where was the ball? What had happened, anyway?
Then he saw an Astrojet throw the ball from the sidelines and then, and only then, did he realize what had happened. Willis
had thrown a pass.
“Yak,” Jim addressed the right linebacker, “what happened? They get a touchdown?”
“No. The pass was thrown out of bounds. But you fouled. You nailed Willis
he had thrown the pass.”
“What a booboo, man,” said Hook, throwing him an icy glare above the bar of his face mask. “That ball was already out of bounds
when you hit Willis. Didn’t you see him throw it?”
Jim, dazed, stared at him. “That’s a stupid question, isn’t it? I wouldn’t have tackled him if I had.”
“I wonder,” said Hook.
The ref counted off fifteen yards and spotted the ball on the one-yard line.
“Why don’t we just give ’em the touchdown and start all over?” Hook grunted disgustedly.
“Don’t be a sour apple all your life,” rapped Bucky Hayes. “Jim’s in the middle of every play. Every time that ball is snapped,
he’s either busting through the line to get at
the ballcarrier or knocking down a pass. All you do is wait back there for a pass or for some runner who makes it past the
linebackers. Maybe that pass would’ve been good and it would’ve gone for a touchdown if Jim hadn’t busted in like he did.
Maybe he scared Willis into throwing the pass wild. Have you thought about that? No. All you’re looking for is an excuse every
time to knock Jim. What’ve you got against him, anyway?”
“Nothing,” said Hook, his eyes like slits cut in white paper. “Who said I’ve got anything against him?”
“Then cool it,” replied Bucky. “And don’t —”
“Okay, Buck,” interrupted Jim, nudging his arm. “I think you’ve said enough.” And, thanks, he wanted to say Thanks for popping
off to Big Mouth.
The teams lined up at the line of scrimmage.
The Vulcans formed a tight wall as they faced the Astrojets. Jim and the other linebackers stood close behind them, the safety
men a few yards back.
The snap. Helmets clattered and shoulder pads thudded as both lines belted each other. The whistle pierced the air. The struggle
halted. The men unpiled.
“They didn’t make it,” someone shouted.
The Vulcan fans roared, grew silent again.
The ref spotted the ball in the same place.
GOAL! GOAL! GOAL!
” screamed the Astrojet fans.
They quieted. The teams lined up. The quarterback barked signals. There was the snap. And again the pileup.
“We held ’em!” cried Bucky.
The Astrojets had gained a foot. Only two feet to go. Third and goal.
The lineup. The snap. Willis faded back
two steps and passed. Ben Trainor leaped in front of the intended receiver. And batted down the ball!
“Way to go, Ben!” yelled Jim, thumping him on the back.
Fourth and goal.
“Hold ’em, men!
The snap. Willis bucked on a sneak. Jim plowed forward to stop the quarterback from reaching the goal line. All his effort
was concentrated on this last drive.
The men unpiled. Willis was on the ground, the ball was under his head, and his head was six inches from the goal line. “He
didn’t make it!” the Vulcans yelled enthusiastically. “
He didn’t make it
They jumped, danced, shouted. It was the Vulcans’ ball now. On their six-inch line! The defense ran off the field; the offense
“We stopped ’em for you guys!” cried Bucky. “Move it up!”
Ronnie Holmes plowed through for three yards, Ken Morris for two, then Chris snapped a pass to Ben Trainor. Ben caught it
and was down on the fourteen. A first down!
They moved the ball to the twenty-eight when the horn signaled the end of the quarter.
Jim sat on the bench, his helmet in his hands. He felt good, but not too good. He still hadn’t made up for that lousy mistake.
The guys might still think he was scared of being tackled. Except Bucky, maybe. But Bucky was a pal.
he Vulcans reached the Astrojets’ eighteen, then lost the ball on a fumble.
Willis clicked with a thirty-two-yard pass to his right end, but an Astrojet guard was offside, so the ball was taken back.
The half ended with the Vulcans leading 7–0.
Within a minute from the start of the second half, the Astrojet quarterback pulled a sneak and took off on a run that netted
him forty-four yards. Two plays later, he threw a touchdown pass. A try for the point was good, and the score was tied at
In the fourth quarter, Ronnie Holmes broke through right tackle for a twenty-one-yard run. He rammed through the same spot
for another six-yard gain. Then Chris Howe tossed a pass to Ben Trainor in the corner pocket. Ben caught it and galloped down
an open field to a touchdown. Ronnie booted for the extra point. It was good, and the game ended with the Vulcans on the fat