and Kimmie Kuehr, correspondent
Lutheran seniors Austin Bryant, Michael Eakle and Max Wirick wanted to cherish their last high school football game for as long as possible Friday night, remaining on the field well after the Saints had lost 12-8 to Eastern Green in Class A semistate action.
Lutheran had led most of the way, but the Thunderbirds scored in the final four minutes to pull out the win.
Heartbreak filled Lutheran’s field as the Saints lost their third semistate game in four years. The “third time is the charm” logic did not hold true. This winningest group of Saints had won 39 games, four sectional titles and three regional championships
They explained the reason they were still sitting and leaning against the goal post.
“This is our field, this is our home,” they explained. “We wanted to be the last to leave.” And they were. Not even a downpour budged them from their new field, which was dedicated earlier this season.
The Saints devoutly tried to overcome quarterback Andre Jones’ sprained ankle, which left him with limited mobility; a 45-minute power failure near the end of the first half; a game-winning drive by Eastern Greene with 2:17 to go; and a valiant late-game drive that ended on the Thunderbirds’ 40.
Bryant, who transferred to Lutheran last year, had his own battles this year, spraining his ankle and then breaking his hand. “We as a team and school worked so hard to get this field,” said the teary-eyed player. “We poured blood, sweat and tears all year in it, and there was no way we were going to sit there and let them be the last ones to leave our field. We took that new field together for the first time, and we left that field together one last time.”
Bryant’s heartfelt testimony was almost as poignant as seeing Eakle draped in Jones’ letterman jacket. Since Jones couldn’t be there because he was en route to Franciscan Health to have his ankle examined, Bryant said wearing the jacket was a way to represent who he called his brother on the field.
The Saints controlled the first half, scoring first on a 25-yard pass from Jones to Trevor Russell and a two-point conversion for an 8-0 lead at the half.
Lutheran’s defense, led by senior/Ball State commit Emeka Jillani, held the Thunderbirds to less than 100 yards in the first half.
Eastern Greene awakened in the third quarter, scoring a touchdown on its opening drive but failing on the two-point conversion.
Lutheran opened the final quarter with an 11-play, 49-yard drive that ended when Eastern Greene recovered a fumble on its 30. The Thunderbirds then drove 70 yard – all on runs by quarterback Caleb Hamilton – for the winning TDs with 2:19 left.
Jones opened the game with two carries for 34 yards but hobbled later. He finished with 119 yards of offense. Russell gained 65 yards rushing with sophomore Marcus McFadden and Baily Barham each gaining 57 yards.
“Staying on that field meant everything to me,” Bryant said. “Lutheran was my family, and when the clock hit 0 it all hit me. When I sat under that goal post I thought of all the memories and relationships I have made, and I knew I had to be the last person to walk off that field.”
The new field brought the community even closer, and Lutheran enjoyed its best season ever. It was these players’ dreams to play on this field and make their school proud, and they did just that.
Maybe the field should be known as “The Field of Dreams.”