Last night wasn’t a typical night, the Rabun County Wildcats played in the Final Four of the State Football Championships for a berth in the State Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium next Saturday in Atlanta.
It wasn’t a typical night because it had never happened before, in the over 60 years of our football program, we had never reached this point in the play-offs.
After dominating every team through the season, the Cats entered the game ranked #1 in the State, the only undefeated team left in the play-offs.
Our opponent, a strong, fast south-Georgia powerhouse, Brooks County had traveled the length of Georgia, to the North Carolina line from the Florida line. Bus loads of Brooks County fans had made the trek, it was going to be a battle to the end.
All week the topic of conversation in our small little mountain town centered around the game. We were told to arrive at the stadium early as a huge crowd was expected and parking would fill up fast.
I woke up yesterday morning with a sense of excitement, lump in my throat and stomach that wouldn’t stop turning. It seems as though that queasy feeling was contagious as I got texts through the day from friends that usually started something like…”I feel like I am going to throw-up,” I could relate, I guess we all had Wildcat Fever!
By 4:30 friends were posting that they were standing in line to get into the stadium, the gates opened at 5.
Once I closed the store, I rushed home, took Lita out for the quickest walk she has ever had, threw some food out for her and was out the door by 5:15.
On my way to the stadium multiple texts tinged my phone “where are you,” “I got our seats, just one row back from where we normally sit,” “hurry up, this place is rocking.”
I found my seat next to Becky Simmons Berliner, my friend since first grade, my friend that I have sat with during every game this season. We both expressed our stomach pains and impending heart attacks, Becky telling me if we win she would cry, she just knew she would cry.
I knew the feeling, we had been waiting for a moment like this our entire lives, a night like no other, a night when history would be made.
By 6 pm the stadium was packed, now we only had an hour and a half to wait before the actual game began. Looking around, Wildcat heroes from decades back had gathered to witness this monumental night, their hearts were on the field and their excitement was palpable, they knew this was their night too.
Finally it was game time, everyone was in place and the roar of the crowd from both sides of the field was deafening.
Brooks County scored first, after a scoreless first quarter, they got an uncharacteristic safety as the second quarter began. A few plays later the Cats scored and we never looked back.
When we scored a touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter, as fans celebrated and cheered, I looked at my friend Becky, tears streaming down her face, a face filled with joy and excitement…. we were doing this, we were going to win!
And win we did! The Rabun County Wildcats beat Brooks County 23 – 12 carrying an undefeated season to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium next Saturday for the chance at a State Championship.
As the clock made its final tick into history, students, parents and fans rushed onto the field to celebrate a feeling we have never had before, one step closer to a dream that has for many years seemed unreachable.
I celebrated in the stands for a bit and then made my way towards my car.
I saw my friend Meredith standing in the end-zone with her four-year old son, sound asleep on her shoulder. He had no idea of the history made on that night, but one day his daddy, one of our coaches, will tell him about the year a group of boys set out on a mission to be the best.
He will tell his son about that historic night, on the field where he had played as a high school quarterback, and he will share the memories of that night when history was made.
Just before I reached my car, I ran into a group of Brooks County fans waiting to load their school bus for an overnight drive back to the other end of Georgia. In the crowd I saw a single mom I had met at halftime. She had ridden the bus from south-Georgia to see her son, a saxophone player, march.
The saxophone player’s mom and her friends were all disappointed, they wanted to win as badly as we did, but as we talked she reached out and gave me a hug and said “y’all win next week.” I thanked her and we wished each other a good night and safe travels home.
By the time I got home, I was exhausted but couldn’t sleep. I sat down and started thinking about the night… a night like no other.
When the history of last night is written, it will focus on Coach Lee Shaw, Bailey Fisher, Braxton Hicks, Cole Keener, Austin Jones, Andrew Barnes, Dawson Henricks, Gavyn Jones, Tanner Jarrard and all the others who contributed week after week to make this night become a reality. But it will also feature the hundreds of young men who marched onto the field as part of the Wildcat Nation from decades past, men who didn’t have the same successes as the 2017 Wildcats, but men whose dream was fulfilled on December 1, 2017.
I couldn’t help but think about my mama and daddy, former coach and wife of the Wildcats. I thought about Chris Mance, Merle and Frank Snyder, Ed Singleton, Bill Hall and my brother Tom, former Wildcats who celebrated in heaven on this magical night.
As I thought about this Wildcat team and all the others who had come before, I cried, tears of joy for a night like no other!
Next Saturday, we have an appointment…. an appointment at THE BENZ! GO CATS!