It’s easy to get lost amid more than 4,000 people.
Especially as a high school football player.
The Fairview Eagles and Raceland Rams, though, didn’t shrink on the large stage. They thrived.
Fairview won the game, 40-27. And, oh yes, it was an important game. A district championship is in the talons of the Eagles once again.
That was the final story, what mattered most. But it could just be Chapter 1. More on that later.
The story at first, though, was the unprecedented atmosphere in Westwood.
Rex Cooksey, who served as Fairview’s head coach for 15 years, peered out from the press box at halftime. He said the only time he’d seen a
crowd rivaling last night’s was one that piled in for the Fairview-Raceland rivalry 25 years ago.
In 1987, the field had a much different look, with no brand new bleachers adorning the hillside. Instead, it was filled with lawn chairs and blankets.
Fairview lost a hard-fought defensive battle then, a 14-7 outcome.
This time, the home fans got what they wanted. The cheers were loud. Memorable.
“Everyone’s so passionate here,” said Devon Turner, one of Fairview’s stars of the game. “Our community is always there for us. It’s one big family here.”
It was really a sight to behold, a fantastic microcosm of the resonating passion of area high school football fans.
A sea of orange, red and black draped Fairview Stadium. The oval of fans tracing the track hardly had an opening.
“That’s what you want, standing room only,” said Raceland coach T.J. Maynard.
Surrounding parking lots were full by 6:30, an hour before kickoff. Fairview’s cross country field made for a colorful kaleidoscope — between fans and vehicles — for birds flying overhead.
The birds on the field ruled on Friday.
The Eagles were fast and flocked together, especially on defense, and especially in the second half.
“This is one of the fastest defense I’ve seen,” said Fairview defensive coordinator Kyle McKnight. “And I’ve coached a long time.
“I’ve never seen a team play team defense like this group does.”
They’re young, too. By the end of the game, partly due to injuries to J.P. Payne and Elijah King, Chris Brewer and Mason Rutherford were the only seniors to have played significant time among the linebackers and defensive backs.
Caleb McKnight rattled some cages on the front line, from the defensive end position. His one-handed interception in the third quarter took immense concentration.
“He had some great games last year as a freshman but this was by far the best game he’s ever had,” said Kyle McKnight, Caleb’s distant cousin.
Tanner Dolen, a freshman, and Armonde Yetts, a sophomore, also stepped up in key situations.
The game was tight, and the crowd was heavily involved on both sides for three quarters. It would have been easy for either side to succumb to surrounding pressures.
Raceland, while experienced overall, has a young team as well. The Rams return many key pieces next season.
But nobody is worried about next season just yet.
Get out the calendar and circle it now.
November 16. Regional championship. In Westwood between Fairview and Raceland?
Some think a Round 2 is all but guaranteed.
As for the atmosphere, it may be even greater.
“When we’re back here in another month, there will probably be even more (fans),” Maynard said. “We both know we’re on a collision course for a regional championship game.”
Others might not be quite ready to come to that conclusion.
“Hopefully we get a chance to meet again,” said Fairview coach Nathan McPeek. “It may be different, it may be the same.”
Either way, it should be just as fun.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2664.
It’s easy to get lost amid more than 4,000 people.
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