The tears staining Jeff Williams’ cheeks spoke more eloquently than any of Will Shakespeare’s words.
The small dots of liquid wrote the story of the night as vividly as the 20-13 numbers lighted on the scoreboard at Spike Vannoy Field.
Disappointment. Sadness. Sorrow. The range of emotions was narrow.
Williams is a big boy at 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, but not too big to cry when the world collapsed around him last Friday night since it was his Cody High School football team one touchdown short of a road trip to Laramie.
A little bit of disbelief clouded an otherwise clear sky for the Broncs as the state 3A semifinal game ended dreams.
“It’s sudden,” Williams said.
Playoffs are an ever-narrowing funnel, leading to a title game with two teams left and a last one standing.
Cody, 8-2, did not expect to be listening to underdog rival Powell’s songs of joy at the other end of the field. Only a few weeks earlier Cody handled the Panthers with ease, 38-14, on the same turf.
Football, said an introspective Williams, “It gives and it takes. It’s like life.”
Life has been complicated for Powell lately. Before the season began quarterback Ethan Asher was severely injured, partially paralyzed, in a one-car accident. The night these teams last played, Cody generously raised thousands of dollars for Asher’s medical costs.
The Panthers missed their teammate and they missed Asher as a player. Even now, after two straight playoff upsets, they are just 6-4. Williams did not use the phrase, but it seems as if Powell is on a Win-It-For-Ethan mission.
“They played hard for Ethan,” Williams said of the fresh spark he saw in the opponent, something different Powell brought to the field this time.
That was evident from game’s start, when the Panthers ran through and around the Broncs on an 80-yard opening drive and consumed all but 1:20 of possession time in the first quarter.
Powell shortened the game, limited Cody’s opportunities, and rose up on defense to stymie the Broncs’ offense.
Often enough, there is an over-emphasis on sports in this country. It is also sometimes too easily dismissed that games are just games. Teams do share lifetime experiences, become brotherhoods and players bring out their best instincts when adversity occurs.
Perhaps 10 percent of high school athletes will compete in college and then one percent of college athletes will spend a minute playing their sport professionally. So to aspire to a state title is a worthy pursuit.
There was no room in the stands this game, Powell fans traveling 25 miles and displayed their orange-and-black allegiance. Cody fans in their blue and gold filled the home side. Winning a game does not right the world’s wrongs, but winning state is good for a community’s psyche.
And it is something special to remember as athletes grow older.
Cody had the ball near game’s end, quarterback Hunter Hays trying to will the football into the hands of receivers downfield for a miracle comeback. Those are storybook endings and all long-time fans remember their team pulling off a neat trick to pull it out. But not this night.
As Powell celebrated about 80 yards away, Cody players gathered in a circle. Coach Matt McFadden passed on adult advice, saying he loved them, was proud of them and that they should hold their heads high.
McFadden hugged player after player. Broncs hugged each other just as tightly, a period at the end of the journey. One fan on the periphery of the team commented that it was so very quiet.
It was an atmosphere of solace, not merriment. It had that death-in-the-family mood, though of course not so serious.
“It’s tough,” junior Nic Talich said. “It hurts.”
One by one Broncs retreated to the locker room. Hays kept up with McFadden, hugging as many of his guys as he could. He seemed bewildered the Broncs did not show the same fire as last game, did not match Powell’s fire.
But neither did he, nor anyone else make excuses.
Williams head was held high when he said, “I’m thankful for the season.”
Even if in the end life got in the way.