The O’Connor Panthers entered Farris stadium on Friday, November 24 with a great understanding of their opponent. They would have to get past Reagan to find their way to the Regional semi-finals. This is known territory for the Panthers. In 2012, they advanced to the State semifinals before ending their football season.
Reagan can be considered the thorn from North East that is constantly stuck in the side of Northside. Volleyball, football, basketball, soccer it seems a Northside school is forced to face the Rattlers. Most of those matches have left Northside snake bit and out of the playoffs.
This year, the Lady Panthers faced Reagan in the regional finals of Volleyball and they defanged the rattlers in brutal style and three matches.
The Panther football team has faced the Rattlers three times in the playoffs and each time, the Rattler has struck. Until now. Until November 24. This is the not the first time the Panthers have defeated the Rattlers. They have three regular season wins against the Rattlers, but the Rattlers owned the overall record. Until now. Until November 24.
The Panthers are a team with one goal and one mission. The Panthers want to be playing football for Christmas. Christmas you say? Yes, if the Panthers reach the Division 1 State Championship game it will be played around Christmas Day. I can already feel the burn from Coach Malesky’s eyes as I have started discussing games in the future. Forgive my transgression.
Speaking of Coach Malesky I know he must think I am insane. After each of the games starting with Brennan I have asked him to sum them up in one word. The first time I asked this question, he looked at me and said, “One word?”
Friday afternoon their was no hesitation, no confusion…”Dancing.”
As I looked into his fierce gaze, I realized he really was dancing there on the football field. He was also dancing on cloud nine. Coach Malesky earned this dance, but it’s a dance he has choreographed and I watched as 71 young athletes helped play the music for the dance.
I could bore you with the stats, 370 total yards of offense for the Panthers. I could discuss the passing and receiving, I could discuss the yards carried, the number of tackles, and the number of sacks, but I am not. First I am not a statistician. O’Connor has an awesome stats guy and I don’t want his job.
I could talk about big plays and big players—I am not. One main reason in Friday’s game there was not a big play or big player. As Coach and I stood in the middle of the battleground and news hounds had grabbed their “player” I remarked, today was a true team effort. Coach smiled, and said “Absolutely. Today, different players from the whole team rose up to the occasion.”
I am not dismissing Roel Sanchez, Jalen Hughes, Millard Bradford, or Tryeshaen Patterson or a host of others. They preformed extremely well. However, you had players across the field, down the field, players who in the past had not had their name mentioned play well. Each person contributed at the right moment, at the right speed, with the right intensity to demonstrate to the Rattlers their domination of Farris Stadium was ending.
This is the same group of boys who traveled to the darkened recesses of Clemens Stadium to face their other nemesis—Steele High School and they shoved the ball down the field, across the field, over the field, until Steele had been Panther slapped.
Coach Maxwell and I have a few moments to visit before the start of each game. I have come to treasure those few moments. Yesterday he told me the boys were ready to play. Ready they were.
If this had been election coverage, I could have been like CNN and ABC News and called the election (game) after the first touchdown. Standing along the sidelines, I heard our players encourage each other. I heard our players provide a spark and intensity to their teammates. These are the important parts of the game. Yes, I understand “stats” win the game. However, to witness teamwork, to witness the unselfish spirit of each player—our “big name players” do not act like “big name players”—they are cheerleaders to their teammates, they hold out a hand and offer support where needed.
Those players who enter the field from the sideline understand the expectations because of the players who were on the field before them.
Michael Lyssy attempts at least fifty kicks on the sideline of every game. You see the same determination on his face in practice on the sidelines as you see when he straps his chin guard down and enters the field. There is no resting on the sidelines. There is no “resting” or taking for granted the power of that leg. It is hard work and dedication of an athlete.
This is s a lesson they learn from their coaching staff. I have had the opportunity to visit with the OC coaches in the off-season–on the board, diagrams of the players, on the side diagrams of plays and strategies. They are discussing who will be returning and how to make the team better.
I was witness to a rare site Friday. Before the start of the game, Coach Malesky was actually sitting on the bench. He had his arms out and was watching his players. I wanted to capture the picture, I wanted to learn what thought he might be having at this time, but I could not intrude. One knows when not to disturb the magician.
The Panthers return to action, Friday, December 1 at Buck Stadium. They will face undefeated San Benito for the right to play in the regional championship. Kick off is at 7:30pm. Corpus Christi is only two hours away. I can guarantee it will be worth the trip. Watching our Panthers is better than watching the Longhorns, or the Aggies,–or even the Cowboys. Come out and see for yourself.