With the biggest football game in the program’s four-year history falling the day after Thanksgiving, there was some concern that May River’s home-field advantage might not be in full effect Friday night.
But when the hometown Sharks picked themselves off the canvas in the second half and pulled within a touchdown in their Class 3A Lower State championship showdown with perennial power Dillon, it was obvious Shark Nation had brought its “A” game.
May River came up short in its bid to reach the state championship game for the first time, but the Sharks — and their fans — showed up and showed they belong among the state’s best. Both the home and guest stands were packed, with fans lining the fence around the track surrounding the field.
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The magnitude of the moment started building hours before kickoff, when fans of both teams pulled up and started tailgating ahead of the big game, one of many ways May River’s administration tried to ensure a big crowd. The school’s booster club paid for free admission to the first 100 students in attendance, making for a raucous student section, but the energy waned after three first-half turnovers put the Sharks in a 28-7 hole at halftime.
While several big offensive plays and defensive stops brought the fans to their feet, Dillon’s ability to create turnovers and turn them into points quieted the home fans.
They came back to life in the second half. May River scored on a wild play late in the third quarter, cutting the deficit to 28-14, then recovered the ensuing onside kick and drove for another touchdown.
The electricity was back. “Sandstorm” blared through the stadium’s sound system and echoed among the trees, fans cheered at the top of their lungs. The Wildcats pushed another score across the board, making it 35-21, but May River’s Terry Fields took the ensuing kickoff to the house, cutting Dillon’s lead to only seven with mere minutes left in the game.
The Tank was rocking.
“Oh man, it was great,” May River coach Rodney Summers said. “You know, I came before kickoff and people were standing around the fences. This was a big ball game. Big atmosphere. It’s great to be able to do it at home.”
The Sharks came up short in their bid for a trip to Williams-Brice Stadium next Saturday, but they left everything on the field — their home field. And the next time they host a big game — and there will be many more — they will have been there before. So will their fans, who showed up hours before kickoff and were still there on the field after the game, not mourning a tough loss, but celebrating a heck of a run.
“It hurts not being able to get the victory here, but it was nice to have your home crowd and play on your home field,” Summer said. “We wouldn’t want to have it any other way.”
— Brackin Lambert, LowcoSports.com
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