Drake sighed in relief as he dumped his schoolbooks in his locker, glad that the day of school had finally ended. He took out his cellphone and texted Katrina. ” Why do I even bother going to Chemistry? I am never going to use it.” Her response came a few seconds later, ” What if you want to blow stuff up?” Drake was perplexed, ” Why would I want to blow stuff up?” ” Well if you don’t make it pro, terrorism is your only other chance in life. We both know you couldn’t do anything else.” Drake stared at the screen for a few seconds before replying. ” You’re mean, you know that?” ” I know, and there’s nothing you can do about it. By the way, I want to get a cat.” Drake raised an eyebrow and replied, ” you were mean just now, I don’t think you deserve a cat.” ” I’m getting one anyway; you can meet it when you get home if you behave.” Drake could only chuckle as he replied: ” Alright, I’ll see you later, brat.” An almost immediate response followed, ” I am not a brat!”
Drake slipped his phone back in his pocket as King walked up to him, ” we’ve got a problem.” ” What’s up?” Drake asked. ” We’ve got an emergency team meeting in the gym.” Drake frowned and followed King towards the gym, wondering what this could be about. They were the last two to arrive and sat in the front with the rest of the team captains. Coach Miller walked in the gym a few minutes later and stood before his team. ” Gentlemen, I’m afraid I have bad news. First thing’s first, Tyler came into my office first thing this morning with transfer papers. He claimed he’s moving in with his dad and that he’s sick of playing for a team that’s not going to let him start, so he’s going back to Goldenfield.” The team groaned and swore under their breath. Drake had to admit that he was glad Tyler was gone. ” Drake, I’m going to need you to do what you did last year. We need you now more than ever.” “Yes sir,” Drake answered.
" There’s one more thing,” Coach Miller added. The team quieted down and looked at their coach who gave a long sigh. ” It has been my honor to coach here for as long as I have. For the past fifteen years, I have been blessed to see countless young men come through my program. However a few days ago, I went to see my doctor, and I got the test results last night, and I’m afraid that I have been diagnosed with Leukemia.” The air felt heavy as the Panthers looked at each other shock and worry on their faces, hoping, praying they had misheard. Drake felt as if someone had kicked him in the gut and torn out his lungs. ” I’m afraid that this upcoming Homecoming game will be the last of my career,” Coach Miller finished. Drake took a deep breath and stood up ” then I guess we have only one option. Win.”
Words of Coach Miller’s upcoming last game spread like wildfire as a show of their gratitude previous Panther alumni were brought in for an early homecoming celebration. The turnout was big too with generations of past Panthers showing up, many wearing their old letterman jackets. The celebration was held in the school parking lot, and school had even been canceled for the day. The event started with the principal welcoming everyone to the event and thanking Coach Miller for all his hard work during his tenure and offering the mic up to anyone who wanted to say something. Drake was the first one to take her up on her offer. He stood up, proudly wearing his home jersey and walked on the stage to thunderous applause. He cleared his throat and looked at the crowd. ” I’m going to make this quick. Because we all know that Katrina is going to take at least an hour when she gets up here.”
The crowd chuckled as Katrina gave Drake a playful glare, she had brought the three dogs who were looking at him heads cocked, clearly not understanding what was going on. Drake took a minute to look Coach Miller and sighed ” Coach, I remember when you came to the hospital when I got shot in hand last year and talked the cops in giving me a second chance. You were more of a role model than my parents ever were to me. Last season, playing on your team was the happiest I’d ever been. I just want to say, Coach, that, you are more than just a great coach, but you are a good man, and if I turn out to be half the man you are, I’ll have gone some good in my life.”
Drake stepped off the stage and was met by Coach Miller. The two embraced tightly ” You’re a good kid Drake. It was a privilege coaching you. You lead this team now. You understand?” ” Yes, sir.” One by one each member of the team grabbed the microphone and expressed their gratitude followed by multiple members of alumni and other people stepped forward to pay their respects. After that, a local band started playing, and Drake began to talking to people who were wishing him luck against South Warren. Soon he bumped into King and his mom, Tasha. ” Hey, Solace! Man, I’ve been looking all over for you!” ” King,” Drake said fist-bumping his best friend. ” Hey Tasha,” Drake said. ” Drake, good to see you again. Thank you again so much for that money you gave us, although you didn’t have to do that.” ” It’s no problem; you two might as well be my family.”
“Woof!” came an excited bark and Tundra rushed by Drake and got on his hind legs and put his paws on Tasha’s shoulders, licking her face. Tasha laughed and petted the Husky ” hello Tundra, how are you?” ” No! Get down, bad dog!” Katrina said walking toward the Husky who just looked at her, tongue hanging out, barking and howling in protest as Katrina yanked him down. Sierra and Fly raced towards Tasha barking and circling her. ” She has no treats, now stop it,” Katrina said. The dogs flopped on their bellies and groaned. King chuckled and got Drake’s attention, ” Hey man, guess who’s here?” ” Who?” Drake asked. ” Mark Davis is here.” ” Who?” ” You don’t know who Mark Davis is?” King asked ” He’s the guy who works for ESPN, the man covers the up and coming high school players each year. Rumor has it he’s going to watch our game. Let’s go butter him up, infatuate him with our charm.”
Drake shot Katrina an apologetic smile, ” duty calls.” Katrina kissed his cheek to see him on his way, and Drake followed King until he came across a clean-shaven man with gray hair talking to Coach Miller. ” And here they are now,” Coach Miller said, waving King and Drake over. ” Looks like we’re expected,” King said heading to Coach Miller. ” Drake, King, this is Mark Davis. Mark, this here is one of the most dynamic duos in all of high school football.” ” It’s nice to meet you sir,” King said, extending a hand. Mark shook King’s and Drake’s hand ” nice to meet you, gentlemen. I’ve heard a lot about you, and I’m looking forward to seeing what you two can do. Now’s your time gentlemen.”
Drake sat in his home uniform looking forward to playing in the Homecoming game but also felt terrible that this was Coach Miller’s last game as head coach. Drake and King exchanged a look and nodded, silently vowing to make this game Coach Miller’s best. The team gathered around soon after as Coach Miller look around the locker room. ” I never thought this day would come, the day I would have to leave. I just want you gentlemen to know that every single one of you is like a son to me. I want you to know I’m proud to take the field with you. Now, let’s go kick some ass. Drake?” Drake looked up and met the coach’s eyes ” Lead us out?” Drake nodded and got to his feet ” listen up everyone; it’s go time. Regardless of the circumstances, it’s still Friday Night! It’s our time! Let’s get out there and take care of business! Panther Pride on 3! 1 2 3 Panther Pride!”
" Ladies and Gentlemen, tonight is Homecoming! Where the Easthaven Correctional Panthers will take on the South Warren Golden Eagles in what is Coach Miller’s very last game. From all of us at Easthaven Correctional we would like to say thank you, Coach Miller, for everything you have done for our school. Introducing first, the South Warren Golden Eagles.” The Golden Eagles ran out on the field in their white and blue with gold trim away uniforms to some applause. ” And now, introducing the reigning, defending Texas Triple-A State Champions of the wooooorrrrlllllddd, the Easthaven Correctional Panthers!” The crowd roared as the Panthers ran through the banner the cheerleaders had created. Despite the bleak circumstances, Drake felt alive, as he always did on Friday night. The captains met at the fifty, Coach Miller in the middle of his captains. They shook hands, and South Warren called heads. It was tails and Coach Miller elected to receive. The captains shook hands and jogged back to their sideline.
" South Warren lines up to kickoff, there’s the whistle, and here we go! The kick is going to be fielded at the Panther seventeen by Ferguson, and he’s going to head to the left sideline. He reaches the twenty-five, the thirty, dodges a tackle, reaches the thirty-five and is going to be brought down at the thirty-seven yard-line. ” I-RIght 24 Switchblade,” Coach Miller said. Drake nodded and joined the huddle. ” I-Right 24 Switchblade on one. Ready?” ” Break!” The Panthers lined up in the Pro Set ” Down! Green 30! Green 30! Set Go!” ” Drake takes the snap and pitches it to King who drops back to pass, he’s got Drake wide open, he throws, and Drake is gonna catch it at the forty-five, here comes the South Warren Safety and Drake spins out of the way and he takes off! He’s at the fifty, the forty-five, the forty, the thirty-five, the thirty with no one around, the twenty-five, the twenty, the fifteen, the ten, the five and the Panthers will score off their first play from scrimmage!”
The Panthers kicked the extra point to make the score 7-0. They kicked off to the Golden Eagles and brought down the return man at the twenty-five. The Panther defense ran out to the field. South Warren ran a dive up the field but was stopped by King. ” Fumble!... and it is Easthaven Correctional football!” The offense ran back to the field and got into the huddle. ” We’ve got Halfback Option on one, on one. Ready?” ” Break!” The Panthers lined up in the I-Formation. Down! Blue 18! Blue 18! Set Go!” ” Drake takes the snap and pitches it to King. He’s at the twenty-five, the twenty, knocks down a Golden Eagle, jukes another defender, he’s at the ten, the five and King is gonna score!” The crowd went crazy as the score went to 13-0 and then 14-0. The Panthers lined up to kickoff ” there’s the whistle, and it’s a Squib kick! South Warren is entirely unprepared, and the Panthers recover! And the Panthers are showing no mercy towards these Golden Eagles.”
The Panthers huddled up ” Hit and Go on two, ready?” ” Break!” ” Down! Red 88! Red 88! Set Go Go!” ” Drake takes the snap and drops back to pass” Drake watched James ran a Hitch route and fake out the corner and take off at the outside. ” Drake throws the ball and Furgeson comes up with it! He’s at the thirty, the twenty-five, the twenty the fifteen, the ten, the five and that’s another Panther touchdown! This is getting ugly folks.” After the extra point, the score became 21-0. The rest of the score passed without further damage to make the score 21-0. The kickoff was returned to the nineteen yard-line. Three plays went nowhere due to King’s blitzes. They went to punt, but the punt was blocked by Drake and recovered by Samson and ran it to the endzone. Instead of kicking the extra point, they decided to go for two. The Panthers lined up in the Goalline Formation. ” Drake takes the snap and rolls to the left, and he’s going to be stopped behind the line, but he lets go of the ball to King! And King is going to run it all the way in to make the score 29-0!”
The Panthers kicked off to the Golden Eagles who didn’t do much with the ball before punting it away to King who fielded it at the thirty yard-line and returned it for another touchdown to make it 36-0. Right before the half, South Warren managed to score a touchdown to make it 36-7 at Halftime. In the locker room, the team was already celebrating, and it took a while for Coach Miller to quiet them down. ” Guys guys guys!” he said. ” I appreciate the love but don’t y’ all think you should dial it down?” ” No, sir!” ” I didn’t think so. Alright, King lead us back out.” King led the Panthers back out on the field to face the discouraged Golden Eagles who wanted nothing more with the Panthers. They kicked off to South Warren who did nothing with the ball before punting it. Samson field it at the twenty-eight yard-line and brought it to the South Warren forty before being brought down.
" Strong Left 28 Crossfire on two, ready?” ” Break!” The Panthers lined up with five Wide Outs. ” Down! Blue 98! Blue 98! Set Go Go!” ” Drake takes the snap and drops back to pass, his blocking breaks down, he eludes one sack, and he’s on the run, he goes up the middle and dodges two defenders, he’s at the thirty, the twenty-five, the twenty, and is going to be brought down at the eight-teen.” When Drake rejoined the huddle, he stole a look at Coach Miller, who instead of giving him signals just gave him a nod. Drake smiled and nodded back before looking at his team. ” Alright boys, let’s punch it in. We’ve got Halfback Shovel on one, ready?” ” Break!” The Panthers lined up in the Singleback Formation. ” Down! Gold 14! Gold 14! Set Go!” ” Drake gets the snap and drops back to pass, he throws it to King who sheds a tackle, he makes it to the fifteen, the ten, the five and King is gonna score for another Panther touchdown!” After the extra point, the score jumped to 43-7.
The Panthers kicked off to the Golden Eagles who received more of a beating. Their QB threw a pick-six on his next two drives, one to King, one to Drake, making the score 57-7 before the game mercifully ended. After the game, the team dumped the Gatorade cooler on Coach Miller as the fans chanted ” Thank you, Coach! Thank you, Coach! Thank you, Coach!” The two teams gathered in the endzone after the game, having made their peace with each other. They formed a circle around Coach Miller and clasped hands, heads bowed, both teams becoming one. Cheerleaders and fans did as well. The captains for each team placed their hands on Coach Miller’s back. ” Lord God, we just lift up Coach Miller to you. We pray that you heal him right now in Jesus name Lord God. We ask that you be with him and his family in this time, in Jesus name, amen” King said. “Amen” everyone else echoed.
The Panthers went back to the locker room where Coach Miller gave an emotional farewell speech in which he broke down in the middle of. After which he went to each player and shared words with them. When he got to Drake, he looked at him and motioned for him to go into his office. When they were alone, Coach Miller looked at him. ” Drake... I don’t like to play favorites. But I have to say, of all the kids I’ve coached you are one of my favorites. You’ve never given me any problems, you never complained that I was giving you too much to deal with, you took responsibility whenever you made a mistake, and best of all, you’ve grown into a damn good leader on and off the field. You lift up everybody around you. I want you to understand that.” ” Yes sir,” Drake said. They embraced and Drake exited Coach Miller’s office.