…And a little child shall lead them

Isaiah 11:6 New King James Version

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard shall lie down with the young goat, The calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little child shall lead them. 

Sixth graders can’t play for the 7th grade Future Stars’ team…at least not well. I have seen it attempted many times. My own son, who played for Tennessee’s Future Stars 7th grade team while himself being a 6th grader, looked practically foolish out there. It’s not the kid’s fault, I mean there is too much anatomical development which occurs between being 12 and being 13. Thirteen year olds run faster, are considerably bigger, considerably stronger, and way more aggressive. There exists this physical, un-broachable chasm. For all of you parents reading this who want to believe your son played in 6th grade and was fantastic, your fooling yourselves. I was probably at the game and your son wasn’t the least bit effective; he was rubbish just like mine was, showing in every way his selection was a huge mistake. The difference between us is I can see my son sans the rose colored glasses you wear when looking at yours. That firmly held belief, which I have always maintained privately, but never before voiced on a public forum until now, changed for me Saturday, June 16, 2018, in 7 minutes and 40 seconds. I can now admit my previously, and privately held, sixth grader bias openly; because I was wrong…at least once. It only took 7 minutes and forty seconds to show me the error in my belief. Allow me to set the scene.

Davis

Kentucky was getting kicked 20-7 at home against a 7th grade team formulating its own, newly-minted, 7th grade quarterbacking legend, Jadyn Davis from Murfressboro, Tennessee. Kentucky…well, it hadn’t done a thing offensively since the first quarter’s lone TD drive engineered by QB Bertrand Kibawa. Kentucky had gone the entire third quarter, and half of the fourth, with Tucker Warren at the helm and the offense had barely managed first downs, much less scored. I must admit, I believed the game was over and in my head I began to compose a very different narrative than this one. I believed the rout was well in route, and judging by the Tennessee coaches benching Jadyn Davis in favor of Knoxville’s Jordyn Potts, I wasn’t the only one. I was sitting next to last year’s coach, Terry Samuels, and fellow sportswriter and close friend, Steve LeMaster, in the press box and we all agreed the body language of Kentucky looked defeated.

Then head coach G.J. Wooldridge did the unthinkable, he, in crunch time, went back to the QB he hadn’t called on since several non-descript drives, which went nowhere, in the 1st and 2nd quarters. He called upon a child to lead them, and what he got was a wolf. Hodge took Kentucky down the field and into the end zone for it’s first TD since the first quarter. Tennessee now led 20-14 and the Tennessee kicker’s missed PAT on the third Tennessee score started to look significant. Colin Fratus, who himself could have been the offensive MVP of the game for reasons I will outline later, perfectly executed, with 3:30 left in the game, an on-sides kick which Kentucky recovered at mid-field. In one play, Hodge hit a streaking Gavin Hurst down the sideline for another score and, after another perfectly executed PAT by Fratus, Kentucky led for the first time in the game 21-20.

Then it was Tennessee’s turn. Kentucky, and in the press box we all thought ill-advisably, attempted yet another on-sides kick, which, when recovered by Tennessee, gave them the short field. Jadyn Davis trotted out with still over 3 minutes remaining and took Tennessee back down the field and into the end-zone. After a successful two-point conversion, Tennessee had regained the lead it had only lost briefly during the day, 28-21. Unfortunately for Tennessee, Cole Hodge still had 1:17 seconds left, though Kentucky was out of timeouts. As we say in Kentucky, that was no hill for a climber.

Hodge, with a 7th grade Team Kentucky Future Stars‘ outfit whom had never before tasted victory in this series, whom had been close just the year prior to only be denied, yet again, took his charges down the field and put them in the end zone, now a third time, in the last 7:40 of play. This time Hodge hooked up along the end-zone’s sideline with Korbyn Goff, who deftly caught the ball with both feet inbounds as he fell out of the field of play. Colin Fratus, who had as much ice-water in his veins on this afternoon as Hodge, converted his 4th PAT to knot the score with 36 seconds remaining. None of the thousands of fans in attendance felt comfortable in knowing the game was going to overtime, at least not yet. Tennessee still had Davis and Davis had the type of arm, which he had shown us all day, to cover virtually miles in 36 seconds if he wished. On the second play of his attempted heroics, Davis was under a heavy rush and running for his life, when he got slammed into the turf, by Westport’s Josh Johnson, at Toyota Stadium and, sadly, suffered a broken wrist. Now the game went into overtime but Tennessee would be without its star QB for the game’s pivotal possession.

Adams

In the overtime session, the Kentucky team had the first possession stall out at the 10 yard line. No sweat, Kentucky called on place-kicker Colin Fratus who had been money all day long to come through one last time. The five-foot nothing, 100 and nothing pounds of heart and courage trotted out and nailed a 30 yard field goal out of a brilliant hold from an errant snap putting Kentucky on top 31-28. This, for fans of the series, was reminiscent of how Ben Schofield, just last year, helped secure a Kentucky victory in the 8th grade game. A defense, which had been led all afternoon by a brilliant performance from its middle linebacker from Christian County, Kentucky, Oscar JT Adams, turned back Tennessee from its four swipes at the end zone and the game was finally complete. Kentucky had finally prevailed.

There were unsung heroes abound in the fabric of this unlikely comeback. There was the center from Cadiz, Kentucky, Matt Alex Ladd, who played every offensive snap of the ball game and delivered a shotgun snap right on the money the entire day without singular exception while still protecting the A gap. Unless you have ever played the position, or loved someone who has, you probably don’t realize the significance of that achievement. One bad snap, just one, could have secured for Tennessee yet another victory in the series. There was the play of JT Adams at middle linebacker, the game’s MVP on defense, on a day during which he easily had 15 tackles. There was the little placekicker, Colin Fratus, who went to all three Kentucky Future Stars‘ combines to insure he made the team. There were none, however, more significant, more heroic, more legendary than the little child who led them…the sixth grader whom I would have assured you wasn’t going to contribute a damn thing, had you asked me before the teams played.

This is Fletcher Long, reporting for KPGFootball reminding you to PLAY THROUGH THE WHISTLE!

© Copyright 2018 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed with out the author’s express written consent.

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