Late in the 4th quarter of Lincoln Christian’s first-round playoff game at Boys Town, the Crusaders found themselves down 0-14 with the Cowboys driving for another apparent touchdown. The 2017 football team’s moment of truth had arrived. Would they choose to respond to the glory of God or revert to old habits and the ways of this world?
As their head coach, I’m proud to say they chose the former. The team held Boys Town to a field goal and on the ensuing drive marched 80 yards in 15 plays making the score 7-17 at the half. Despite getting down 7-30 the team came roaring back late in the fourth quarter and made the score 22-30 with under a minute remaining. Boys Town recovered an onside kick to seal the defeat, but I believe the Crusaders left the field successful in the eyes of the Lord.
A month earlier a series of short-term injuries deeply impacted the starting lineups in a game against top 5 rated Fairbury. The Crusaders battled well for a half but ultimately lost to Fairbury in a crushing 54-0 defeat. The loss made the team 2-3 and wondering if all the hard work and dedication in the off season would ever amount to any sort of tangible reward.
The Fairbury loss could have broken the team’s spirit. Losing to Fairbury meant winning a district championship and an automatic bid to the playoffs was likely out of the question. It also meant that our wild card playoff points were probably going to be too low to qualify us for the playoffs. The district championship and a playoff berth appeared to be off the table and in hindsight, that’s exactly what God wanted for the 2017 team.
As a football program, we rededicated our efforts to compete for the glory of God rather than tangible rewards. We spent time considering Paul’s charge in 1 Corinthians to run the race of life so as to win the eternal prize rather than the worldly, tangible prize. We talked a lot about motivation and being motivated by Christ’s love for us rather than by the opportunity to be district champs or qualify for the playoffs.
The team responded well beating Raymond Central 41-0. It’s not too often you experience a 96 point swing from one week to the next, but as the team focused their attention on eternal things, got healthy, and found their groove on offense, they quickly became a team capable of competing against any team in the state. The Raymond Central win was followed by big wins over Ashland-Greenwood, and Milford-Dorchester.
Week by week, as the wins came in, the team’s ranking in the playoff wildcard points improved. As we entered the final regular season game of the year, it was clear that a win against Southern would ensure the team a spot in the playoffs. We needed a win, and we got one, beating Southern 54-0. As the final seconds ticked away some of our seniors drenched me with ice cold water from Gatorade cooler. One of them said, “Welcome to the playoffs, Coach.” I mention that as part of our story because as excited as they were for themselves, they were excited for me as a second-year head coach making my first playoff appearance. We had become a family and everyone had really started to embrace our theme verse for the year from Philippians 2.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.”
The 2017 football team entered the playoffs as the 14th seed in the 16 team playoff and, as I mentioned earlier, we drew undefeated, and #3 ranked Boys Town. In our weekly Monday team meeting, it was clear our players believed they could win. Why? Because they believed in who we are, what we represent, and what we’re all about as a program. I believe they had learned the joy of pursuing their best for the sake of God’s glory, being content with whatever outcome the Lord provides.
The 2017 football season was a success in every sense of the word. I am humbled and honored to have been a part of the great work God did in and through the journey.