By Jeremy Stafford -- firstname.lastname@example.org
QUICKSBURG -- The memory sat in the back of Dylan Dawson's head for nearly a year.
Last season, Dawson and fellow Stonewall Jackson tailback Colton Koontz, both sidelined with injuries, sat and watched as Wilson Memorial throttled the Generals by 32 points.
The rematch would surely be different.
"They embarrassed us last year," Dawson said. "We kept that in the back of our mind and we played as hard as we could."
But as the Stonewall defense lined up for the first play from scrimmage, Wilson tailback Malik Rucks torched the Generals for 15 yards. Three plays later, Wilson quarterback Jake Bailey scored the first touchdown of the game on a 36-yard scramble, the start in what eventually became a 26-17 Hornets win.
And the Generals, at first so bent on revenge, were instead dismayed and left to search the Stonewall Jackson grass for the scattered pieces of themselves.
"I think their first touchdown just made a statement that we were going to have to play," Dawson said. "I guess we just came out too light and had to play catch-up.
"I guess towards the end, mental mistakes killed us."
Slowly, though, Stonewall collected the pieces. Tailback Trevor Warner picked up a piece on a nine-yard scamper, and quarterback John-Michael Pirtle found another with an 11-yard pass to Dawson.
Finally, Cole Shaffer found the final piece, a one-yard run, capping Stonewall's first possession with a touchdown. The game was tied, and the Generals were whole again.
That is, until Wilson scored again with 1:52 left in the first quarter. Despite a missed extra point by Hornets place kicker Grant Sauer, Stonewall was once again left to pick chunks of itself off the field.
But a Wilson fumble soon became a 38-yard field goal by Generals kicker Juan Luna, and the Generals' defense held the Hornets to four consecutive three-and-outs.
Stonewall then found a huge chunk, a 28-yard run by Warner midway through the second quarter. With 5:51 left in the third quarter, Dawson punched in a four-yard score, and everything had suddenly come together for Stonewall. The defense was holding, the offense was moving. Warner was well on his way to his 51 yards on only nine carries, and Dawson, remarkably, had nearly as many receiving yards (32) as rushing yards (49).
And then there was Pirtle, who seemed so relaxed in the pocket, and who never seemed shaken, not even when an option pass became a lost fumble; not even when an attempt to spike the ball with only seconds left in the first half was called intentional grounding because he was lined up in the shotgun.
Pirtle thrashed the young Wilson secondary for 129 yards on 10 passes, including a 44-yard bomb to Colton Leitzel early in the game.
"I was glad that we were able to open things up and throw the ball very well," Pirtle said. "It was very nice and it was good to see it come together. Good to see [the receivers] loosen up a little bit, and the [running backs] to be able to get some runs.
"I was just proud of the guys overall, I was really proud of how they worked."
Their next possession, though, was disastrous.
A Luna punt was blocked by Wilson's Jason Cappo deep in Stonewall territory. With the ball on the Stonewall 39-yard line, Wilson chewed up nearly half the fourth quarter dinking and dunking its way into the end zone.
This time, the pieces were too small and too scattered for the Generals to find. Warner fumbled the ball on Stonewall's next possession, ending what had been a promising drive, and the Generals turned the ball over on downs in their final possession. Their revenge was effectively thwarted.
And no one could help but think of what could have been, had the Generals just kept those pieces of themselves intact.
"We played hard," Stonewall coach Dick Krol said. "Take away three of four of our dumb mistakes, it could have been a different game. An option pitch that was on the ground ... that's not real good; a fumble after the kid clears the line, that's not good; they have a blocked punt, that's not good.
"Take those three away and the game might be ours."