The black and blue uniforms were perfectly crisp, the black helmets were shiny and unscathed, and the players who were wearing them entered the stadium under a program name that had never existed on a football field until Friday night.
After the Goddard school district officially split into two high schools last year, Goddard’s football team had to do the same. The 2011 season was the Lions’ final season as a combined team, and it was now time for each school to play their own schedule.
The brand-new Tigers took the field Friday night for their inaugural football game against the Clearwater Indians, intent on establishing a distinct identity for themselves.
It was hard early on. The stadium was the same, as the team was playing at Goddard High School. Even the announcer accidentally called Eisenhower “the Lions.”
But as the game clock hit zero, the Eisenhower Tigers felt the pressure melt away, as had they something that was all their own: a 22-20 victory over Clearwater—the first win in school history.
“I enjoyed watching the clock tick down to zero and seeing the boys’ reactions,” Eisenhower coach Charlie Nally said of the win. “We donated the game ball to the school, so they can put it in the trophy case and always remember this game.”
Even though Eisenhower walked away with its inaugural victory, the Indians were evenly matched with the Tigers on multiple levels, and it was no easy win.
Clearwater’s defense was the first to score when a Clearwater defender recovered an Eisenhower fumble and ran it back for a touchdown with 5:38 remaining in the first quarter.
Both offenses were comparable, as Eisenhower’s quarterback Trevor Hughes and Clearwater’s Chad Reibenspies excelled at running the option. Hughes relied on teammate Jacob Richardson to catch the deep passes, just as Reibenspies looked to his go-to receiver John Becker.
Four minutes into the second quarter, Hughes found Richardson wide open near the endzone, and Eisenhower scored its first touchdown ever. The game was tied at seven.
With eight minutes until halftime, Eisenhower punted the ball to Clearwater’s five-yard line. A few seconds later, the Tigers forced a safety against the Indians, putting them up 9-7.
However, Eisenhower’s offense still had work to do. The Tigers had an effective drive downfield, and three minutes after the safety, Hughes rushed into the endzone. Eisenhower was up 16-7 at halftime.
The Indians rallied during halftime and took charge of the field in the third quarter, using most of the possession time.
Toward the end of the third quarter, Clearwater scored on a long pass from Reibenspies to Becker, who evaded Eisenhower’s heavy coverage with help from his teammate, to make the score 16-14.
The Tigers responded with a 15-yard kick return, and a touchdown of their own a few seconds later. However, the touchdown was recalled because of a holding penalty against Eisenhower. The offense was then forced to punt.
Clearwater had a long drive down the field, starting on their own seven-yard line. With five minutes left in the game, Clearwater scored on another Reibenspies-to-Becker pass. The Indians were up 20-16, but missed the point after attempt.
Although Clearwater’s long drive had eaten up most of the clock, the Tigers still had enough time, and work to do. Forty seconds after their opponents scored, Eisenhower responded with a long Hughes-to-Richardson pass and subsequent touchdown, making it 22-20.
“I’m very proud of our kids,” Nally said. “We answered. We could’ve gotten discouraged and quit, but we didn’t. We fought back and won it, and I’m really proud of them for that effort.”