The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

The big game


When I was in high school, hardly anybody came to our home football games. Certainly even fewer traveled to the away games - and our games were seldom more than 30 miles distant.

I grew up on an island. It was 118 miles miles long and no more than 23 miles wide at any point. But for state tournaments, we never left that island - and still there weren't many who would travel the few miles required to make an away game.

When the Red Raiders took on Chase County and before that Grand Island Northwest at Weymouth Field - I was amazed at how big the crowds were. Last week the stands were full and the territory south of the stands was several deep with standees outside the ropes. It was an exciting atmosphere. So this is what Friday Night Lights is all about. Our Saturday afternoons weren't nearly as exciting.

There was the student section, too, in the north end, cheering wildly and serenading all game long. It's a great part of the experience of going to a Raiders football game. Though there were times when student enthusiasm reached such a fever pitch that their serenades approached the line of good sportsmanship, Activities Director Mike Brockhaus and Principal Chris Arent were always quick to return them to a more positive message. But their excitement never wanes. We can be sure that it will never wane.

On the other side of the field there were the Chase County fans. Not a bad crowd either, but sparse compared to the mob amassed along the home sideline. There was a larger contingent of fans rooting for Sidney at Holdrege. It's more than 200 miles to Holdrege and it was nearly 100 degrees and still they came. Sidney fans will have a great excuse to make another long trip tomorrow night.

The Sidney versus Aurora game is the biggest of the year so far. The undefeated (3-0) Raiders head east to take on the unbeaten 3-0 Huskies of Aurora. That's a drive of more than 200 miles, too. I'm excited about it. I can't wait. I'm not alone. I know a lot of people are excited. There's a buzz about Raiders football this year.

There's something about two undefeated teams meeting up - at any point in the season and at any level - that makes football exciting. Two things are for sure about games like this. One team is going to be 3-1 after the game and one team is going to be 4-0. We sure hope the 4-0 team is Sidney.

Maybe I shouldn't say that. I'm supposed to be the impartial press. At least that's how I was trained. It's what I believe, too. Few things bother me more than to see a "journalist" revealing his or her political loyalties. It happens all the time though. Especially on the cable news channels - both right and left.

But I'm covering high school sports here. This isn't about Syria and chemical weapons. It's not Romney and Obama. It's not right versus left. It's Sidney versus Aurora. And when it's over the combatants will line up, look each other in the eye and congratulate one another and move on to the next challenge. If only they could do that in Washington, D.C., outside of FedEx Field.

Towards the end of October nearly two years ago, when I was little more than a three weeks removed from major surgery, I went to a high school football game. I wasn't supposed to leave the house for another five or six weeks. Still, I was going crazy being inside so long. So with a 10-inch line of staples and sutures in my gut, I drove 40 miles to a football game in Bellows Falls, Vt.

Turns out the doctors were wrong. It did me a lot of good to get out. I could barely walk and it hurt, but it was good medicine. The smell of decaying, multicolored leaves in the crisp fall air surrounding a high school football game. That was better than anything I could have found in a bottle.

I don't know how many are planning to make the long journey to Aurora. A fact of life is, people have to work. The round-trip drive to Aurora is more than six hours. Game time is 6 p.m. mountain time and 7 p.m. central. I don't know how many of us can escape work at 2:30 for the game. But if you can - do. I have a feeling it's going to be worth it - win or lose it promises to be a great football game.

The Raiders are ranked ninth by the Associated Press in Class B. The Huskies are ranked second. From what Coach Todd Ekart tells me, Aurora is a very physical football team - very much like his own group. The trenches will be where this game is won or lost. The offensive and defensive lines charged with the task of making room for the backs will be the ultimate deciders of victory or defeat.

It's expected to be a cool night in Aurora. At least compared to the near 100 degrees it was in Holdrege. The game-time temperature is forecast at 71 degrees. By the fourth quarter the mercury is expected to dip into the high 50s to low 60s. It will be partly cloudy with no rain in sight. As John Madden would say, that's good hittin' weather.

Football is America's game. Make no mistake about it. I love baseball and always have, always will. But football has clearly taken over as America's game. When the Romans hailed their conquering hero's of battle 2,000 years ago they were really hailing the first football players. Or was it the neanderthals before that. Oh well, whenever upright beings first had thumbs able enough to pick up stones they were likely throwing them at each other.

Well, this isn't war - nothing close. But the drift is, football is battle - a struggle for territory. The fortunes of this game can change on a dime. One second you can have third-and-one in the fourth quarter with a chance to erase a four-point deficit. A moment later a turnover can change that excitement to absolute agony. And if the agony comes, how does your team react? Will they get discouraged and give up the fight - or do they fight harder?

The Raiders have so far looked like a team that will keep fighting. I expect the Huskies are like that too. That's what's going to make tomorrow night so exciting. Two talented teams that don't give an inch. So warm up your cars Sidney. See you in Aurora.


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