There was genuine concern on the sidelines and in the stands Saturday at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem.
The Havelock Rams trailed the Concord Spiders 21-20 at halftime of the state 3A championship, and the players and fans simply weren’t used to it.
Why should they be? Havelock won its games this season by an average of five touchdowns. Havelock had dominated the competition, except for one rainy Friday in August when a Ram rally against New Bern fell short by a single point, 34-33.
New Bern finished the season undefeated, scoring a touchdown in the final 26 seconds to win the 4A state title the night before Havelock faced Concord.
New Bern had its championship, and in the rivalry that is New Bern-Havelock, the Rams wanted to make sure they got theirs, the title that would give them back-to-back state crowns.
In the locker room at halftime, Havelock coach Jim Bob Bryant gave his team a simple message.
"I told them they had 24 minutes left to play. They were either going to be the first-place team in the state or the first-place loser, and that it was up to them," Bryant said. "They came out and played hard in the second half."
Indeed they did. Senior A.J. Coplon sparked the Rams by returning a fumble for a touchdown less than two minutes into the second half. He recovered another fumble that set up the touchdown that put Havelock ahead 35-21.
Ram fans could now breathe.
The Rams scored five touchdowns, 35 straight points, in the second half. Meanwhile, Havelock’s defense stuffed the Spiders, who didn’t come close to the end zone in the second half. Havelock won the championship, 55-21.
One thing that struck us after the game were the emotions of the players and coaches. There were plenty of wide smiles, and plenty of tears. Safety Deshone Godette could hardly talk. Tears ran down the face of Harry Caldwell. Coplon bent down by himself, enjoying a moment of solice amid the craziness of the fans in the stands.
And then there was Bryant, a fiery coach who often yells throughout games on the sidelines, showing a softer side and getting a little choked up when talking about his players and coaching staff.
"It means a lot," he said. "But what means the most to me is to be able to share it with my assistant coaches and these kids, especially these seniors that are graduating. They really helped put Havelock football on the map.
"I love my players like they’re my own, and I would do anything for any one of them. I’m just glad I get to be their coach."
And we’re just glad we can call them our Havelock Rams.