There are very few moments in a person’s life that I truly believe that you are fully “in the moment”. You’re in the moment when a national tragedy strikes, you’re in the moment when your children are born. For me, I was in the moment the entire day of October 21, 2016.
While that date will seem insignificant to many, it was the day of the greatest athletic experience of my life and I know about 40 others would feel similarly about that experience.
Everyone in Class 1A knew that District 6 was likely coming down to two teams: Madrid and Van Meter. I suspect the IHSAA knew this as well, hence why the game was scheduled for the final week of the regular season.
Once we got past Woodward-Granger in week one and Panorama in week 3, most of our varsity players were beginning to look ahead to the week nine showdown with Van Meter. We knew we would hold up our end of the bargain by remaining undefeated, and Van Meter more than held up their end as well.
Thus, the stage was set: 8-0, 4th-ranked Van Meter traveling to 8-0, 3rd-ranked Madrid. In my life, I had never seen so much media coverage for a game between two, 1A schools. WHO-TV in Des Moines had us as their Game of the Week, KCCI-TV was there all game, we were always a staple on WOI-TV’s “Friday Night Blitz”. Then to top it off, we were Mediacom 22’s Game of the Week.
All of this for a football game between two schools who’s combined enrollment is a little over 300 students. Oh, and it just happened to be my senior night too.
To say there was a lot of pressure is an understatement. However, in the weight room relaxing before the game, I had no nerves at all, just confidence. In fact, I actually stepped out of the weight room just to see all of the extra-curricular activity happening before the game with the TV trucks and people waiting. I thought it was all really cool and it got me excited.
Warm-ups came and went, we went through senior night exercises and went back to our area and relaxed for a few minutes before the start of the game. We took the field as we always did, behind our trailer with “Thunderstruck” blaring per usual, but when we entered The Jungle, it was like nothing I’d seen in my playing days.
People were lined up around the entire fence on the track, two to three people deep in some spots. One of our coaches estimated from ticket sales that there was anywhere from 3,500 to over 4,000 people attending our game. To give an idea of how big this game was, I knew of dozens kids from every school in our conference were in attendance…and their schools were still playing that night!
The game kicks off as we get the first possession, and unfortunately fumble it. Van Meter converted only a few plays later on a long touchdown run by their quarterback. We didn’t back down, however, as we went right back down the field on a long touchdown drive capped off by a 13-yard touchdown run.
We were gridlocked at seven apiece. The Bulldogs had control for most of the first half however, as they were able to punch in another touchdown and tack on a field goal for a 17-7 lead heading into the halftime break.
I don’t want to say I thought we didn’t have a chance to comeback in this game, because that would be flat out untrue, but we had a steep mountain to climb. We were up against a Van Meter defense that had only allowed six points all season long. We knew we were good, but we, as a unit, would have to rise to the ocassion.
We were able to do so. Coming out of the gates of the second half, we looked much more comfortable as we forced a three-and-out on defense thanks to some mental mistakes by Van Meter. Our first drive of the second half was much like the first drive of the first half. Marching right down the field and capped off by a 19-yard touchdown run off an option play.
That touchdown will always be in my memory bank. As our running back was going in to score, I remember hearing a collective roar of the crowd on the Madrid side. It was a roar like you hear at Kinnick or Jack Trice on Saturday’s, not a 1A high school football game. I still get chills thinking about that moment in time.
We only built off that momentum, as we came back on the next drive defensively and came up with a huge interception that set us up inside the Van Meter 20. Our feeling: if we get up on these guys, we’re not looking back.
Well, it didn’t happen that way, the Bulldogs held us to a field goal (shocking for Madrid) and proceeded to take control of the game once again and went on back-to-back bruising touchdown drives. A late touchdown cut it to seven, but it was too little, too late.
Despite the loss, not many were sad. To me, my teammates and our coaching staff, it showed that we had the ability to go toe-to-toe with the best Class 1A had to offer. There were a ton of positives to build off from a game like we had just played and we had the playoffs to look forward to.
The following Friday, we bounced back for a 27-20 win over Pleasantville in the first round of the playoffs and set up a rematch with Van Meter, who had barely survived an overtime scare at the hands of AHST, Avoca. We felt we had Van Meter’s number in this go around.
But it just wasn’t to be. Van Meter came out after halftime with a 7-0 lead and imposed their will on us. 28-7 was the final score of my final high school football game.
I cried, all us seniors did. We cried because it was over, we cried because in our 4-years, we never made it to the UNI Dome, a place we became so accustomed to seeing in our youth. It hurt, it hurt to not follow through on our goal of winning a state championship, something we had worked for all our lives.
It took me a couple of days, but I was able to look back and smile. I lived the dream for four years, playing football for the Madrid Tigers.
There are always going to be days where I sit and wish I had just one more crack at it, everyone who’s played high school football does. But playing for this team, this program and this community…it was full of joy and something I loved every minute of.
Even as I’ve moved on to a new chapter (and eventually new chapters) in my life, I will always have a special place for the Friday night’s I played in The Jungle for the best town in the world.