By Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News and Eagle
There’s a special feeling people get watching high school football. The players and coaches put so much into it each week and, in many communities, they carry the additional burden of not just trying to win, but representing an entire city. It’s a lot to put on the shoulders of a team, especially when talking about 15-18 year olds who put in hours of practice in addition to having to keep up with their classwork.
It’s also quite an emotional investment that at times can be heartbreaking. No other sport seems to capture a community’s passions like football. Friday nights are like a communal sacrament. And when expectations fall short, the burden seems to fall squarely upon the shoulders of the young men who work so hard. The tears and disappointment that sometimes follow in the locker room are testaments to it. The aches and pains that are endured are the physical symptoms.
So, why engage in such a ritual? Because, when it all comes together, there really is nothing that can compare to seeing a high school football team celebrate a win, saluting their home fans, taking photos with their parents and slapping each other on the back. The scene can warm the heart of even the most jaded observer.
The smiles that greet a reporter following the game after a win are genuine and are so much more preferable to watching a young man struggle to come up with the words, sometimes through tears, after a tough loss.
The Enid Plasinmen experienced one of those moments after Friday’s homecoming 28-23 win over Bartlesville. Now, this is not to overstate the importance of the win. There was no championship on the line, there was no “no tomorrow” aspect to the game. But, it was redemption.
The Plainsmen were able to finally defeat a Bartlesville team that has haunted them with heartbreaking late losses the last two seasons and in two of the past three seasons, it was the Bruins who eliminated Enid from playoff contention in the last game of the season. Bartlesville owned a four-game winning streak in the series entering Friday.
Through three quarters of the game Friday, it looked to be more of the same as Enid put the ball on the ground and play sluggishly and found itself down 17-6 with 10 minutes to go. Then, the tide turned.
First, Devin Pratt intercepted a Bartlesville pass in the end zone that stopped what could have been a crushing touchdown.
It was also a measure of redemption for Pratt, who had fumbled the ball away on the Bartlesville 3-yard line in the first half.
Then it was the Raheem Mitchell show. Mitchell, on the next play, ran 75 yards, breaking tackles and barreling through the Bartlesville defense in a dazzling run that Enid head coach Steve Chard likened to Tommie Frazier’s legendary 75-yard run for Nebraska in the 1995 Fiesta Bowl. Mitchell didn’t score, but Raeshaan Finley finished the drive with a 2-yard TD.
Next up was Jesse Cartwright — pressed into duty when Aaron Beagle, who was crowned homecoming king earlier in the evening, went down with an injury in the first quarter after intercepting a pass that led to Enid’s sole first-half touchdown. Cartwright intercepted a pass that set up more heroics for Mitchell as the junior torched the Bruins defense for a 27-yard score, as he turned in the fifth-best all-time single-game rushing performance in Plainsmen history with 253 yards on the ground.
Enid would add another score, but then had to withstand a Bartlesville rally that gave Plainsmen fans (and coaches) some scary moments of déjà vu when the Bruins recovered an onside kick. It was shades of last year when the Bruins recovered an onside kick and then scored to win on the last play.
How nerve wracking were those final moments? “Right now, I feel like I am going to throw up, but I will feel better later,” said Chard half-jokingly after the game. It was probably a moment of queasiness felt by many,
But there would be no heartache (or heartburn) this time around as the Plainsmen snuffed out the Bruins final rally and celebrated a win that left them 1-0 in district and 2-2 overall. The celebration was on as the players likely proved to themselves as much as anyone else, that they could overcome adversity.
And in those moments after the game we saw everything that is right about high school football. Sometimes it seems the hard work and sacrifice is never going to pay off, but when it does and an infectious joy breaks out, it brings it all home and makes it all worthwhile.
Ruthenberg is sports editor at the News & Eagle. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.