A familiar feeling flooded the Mustang Stadium Friday night, Nov. 27. Once again, Ola High School’s varsity football team made the state playoffs and, once again, more appeared to be on the line than ever before. This time, however, Coffee County High School’s Trojans took Ware County’s place and, this time, the playoff game would take place at Ola—a feat never before accomplished in the school’s history.
“When I found out that we would host playoffs this year, I was over the moon. Of course, coming out with a win and being able to move on to Round Two was the goal, but having our home field, community support and all the senior-year emotions made it special in every way,” Olivia Dawson, senior cheerleader, said.
Before the scoreboard even designated the time, the game seemed to begin in a rough manner. As the Mustangs attempted to break through their weekly banner, the sign did not tear and, instead, fell before the team for them to trample as they took the field. Nonetheless, the boys started strong, finishing the first half with a tied score of 7-7 thanks to Jaden Barnes, #9 and sophomore wide receiver.
“I feel like it was a way to prove that we weren’t ‘just Ola’ anymore and that we were meant to be there and to be the first Ola [football] team to ever win a playoff game,” Connor O’Neil, #35 and junior middle linebacker, said.
After half-time, the Mustangs began to struggle. Come the final buzzer, the scoreboard flashed devastating results: 7-31 in favor of the Trojans.
“It felt like we let down the community, the school, and especially ourselves,” O’Neil said.
The sideline went quiet, echoed by the whispers rumbling through the stands. That deafening silence was the sound of around 20 seniors who had just played their last high school football game. It was the sound of a team who worked nonstop to rewrite their narrative since 2018, when the Mustangs went 1-9. This year, Ola went 9-1 until their game against the Trojans, leaving them with a final record of 9-2.
“I felt like the season was amazing. I’m really proud of our team. I just wish it would’ve ended a little bit differently,” O’Neil said.
Scarcely a dry eye in sight, the team gathered on the field for a final post-game speech. While the results were not what everyone had hoped for and they were more than capable of commanding respect earlier on the field, the coaches were far from angry.
“We’re a family right here. That’s all we ever had. That’s all we ever needed,” Terry Boddie, Fellowship of Christian Athletes leader, said.
As soon as the boys were dismissed, they were met with overwhelming support from their loved ones. While the players were understandably upset, more parents seemed to be trying to hide tears than their sons. Many cheerleaders and managers also sported streaks in their makeup in the aftermath of the emotional game.
“Overall, I knew whether we won or lost that it would be a memory that I would carry on with me for the rest of my life. With the way our school year has been due to [COVID-19], I am so thankful that I was able to cheer at not only the playoff game, but all ten football games before it,” Dawson said.
The coaches had been right, the team was a family—and not a small one. Nearly all of Ola’s community came together throughout the 2020 season to support the Mustangs during their record-breaking year and that seems to be worth too much for a single game to tarnish.
“Rings get dusty. Family is forever,” Boddie said.