|Otis Porter makes the catch ahead of a Guilford defender on Saturday, Sept. 1, well before the weather became an issue.
Photo for Huntingdon athletics by Carrie Bump
By Brian Lester
Brian Lester is a reporter in Florida. He has 14 years of experience at newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, spending 10 at The Courier in Findlay, Ohio. Lester also writes an Around the Region column for D3hoops.com and wrote Around the Region columns for D3football.com from 2012-17. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois.
Adam Mann has been through weather delays before in his football career.
When he and his Huntingdon teammates headed for the locker room Saturday afternoon in the wake of a lightning delay, the lead over Guilford sitting at 58-48, the time on the clock showing 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter, he didn’t see it as a huge deal. He figured it wouldn’t be long before the Hawks were back on the field.
“We thought at first we’d sit there for 30 minutes to an hour,” said Mann, a team captain and offensive lineman. “We kind of just kind of talked game plans and made sure everyone was hydrated. We tried to stay focused and didn’t want to exert too much energy thinking about it (the delay).”
Those 30 minutes turned into hour. That hour turned into three hours. By then, it was after 7 p.m., but there was a glimmer of hope. The teams were called back onto the field. The game appeared as if it would resume.
“We were hyped. We were ready to go finish this game,” said fellow senior offensive lineman Chris Hering, a preseason D3football.com All-American.
Huntingdon head coach Mike Turk said the plan was to resume the game at 7:45 p.m., 30 minutes after both teams returned to the field.
Just like that, the hope to play vanished.
“We hadn’t even started warming up yet when a trainer came over and told we had to clear the field because of another lightning strike,” Turk said. “We knew at that point that we had to determine what we were going to do. We knew we’d have a tough decision to make.”
With the Hawks traveling nearly 500 miles from Alabama to North Carolina to play this game, there was no chance of a makeup.
Declaring a winner was an option. But ...
“It was a 10-point game with 13 minutes left. Doing that wouldn’t have been fair,” Turk said.
The final call was made. It would go in the books as a no-contest. No score, no stats, no mark in the win-loss column. Just a game without a conclusion.
“The big thing is you expect to play, and you want to beat your opponent,” Hering said. “We were hurt that we didn’t get to finish. We wish we could have just gone out there and played.”
Mann was hopeful when the teams were called out of the locker room after three hours of waiting around, all the while trying to stay locked in mentally and emotionally.
“We got really excited as a team and then after a minute or two, we got the call to go back in. It was heartbreaking and really frustrating,” Mann said. “We just wanted to play. To have it teased in front of us, that just made it more frustrating.”
Turk doubles as the athletic director at Huntingdon and looked at the situation from both sides. The decision came down to player safety. The teams had battled for three hours on a hot and humid day before going to their respective locker rooms.
“I looked at it both ways as much as I could, and ultimately, the common-sense thing to do was what we did,” Turk said. “The guys had played for three hours in a hot, intense and stressful environment, and then laid up in a locker room for three hours. The longer the delay went, the more concerned we were about them going back out there and playing at a high level.”
Turk will tell you the decision wasn’t easy.
“Having a no-contest is not an easy thing to do when you’ve fought, scratched and clawed for three hours. You want a result. But we didn’t have any other choice at that point.”
Mann said the decision left an empty feeling among the players, as well as frustration.
“You practice and prepare all week to get ready for a game and for it to end in the fashion that it did, it’s frustrating,” Mann said. “There was really no closure. You just get on the bus and go home without a win or a loss. It’s tough.”
Hering echoed those thoughts.
“There’s no point in crying over spilled milk now. You just have to move on and get ready for the next game,” Hering said.
The day was no doubt a grind, a lesson in dealing with adversity. The players did their best to stay loose during the delay and even broke out the goodie bags parents had made for them since they hadn’t eaten since the pregame meal at 9 a.m. that morning.
But while the game ended without a score, the Hawks didn't come away empty-handed. They still nearly played an entire game.
“When we were playing, that was real. It wasn’t a no contest,” Turk said. “You can’t put a price tag on begin able to go up against a different team. We did some good things on offense but gave up 48 points on defense. We have to get better on both sides of the ball and move forward as if there had been a result.”
“We got really excited as a team and then after a minute or two, we got the call to go back in. It was heartbreaking and really frustrating. We just wanted to play. To have it teased in front of us, that just made it more frustrating.”
Huntingdon offensive lineman Adam Mann
Turk reminded his players that this was a non-conference game and has no bearing on what the team hopes to accomplish this season in the USA South Athletic Conference.
“All of our games are important, but it’s not like this was a conference game or playoff game. We have our whole season in front of us and our goal is to be ready to play our conference schedule. This game, even though it ended without a result, will prepare us for that schedule.”
That reminder helped bring a little closure on a strange game day experience.
“We still chalk it up as a game in our mind and we play a rival this week (Birmingham-Southern), so it won’t be hard getting ready for it,” Mann said.
And about the game against Guilford?
“At some point, it doesn’t become a game anymore. It becomes a life experience,” Mann said. “We’ll look back on it with frustration, but it will definitely be a good story to tell down the road. Right now, we know our goals are in front of us for the season and that’s a positive.”