Sometimes in sports, when you’re hurting the most, little things find a way to ease the pain.
On one play in the fourth quarter of a chilly 53-13 Class 1A state football semifinal loss to Burlington, Lyons seniors Jordan Melani and Marcos Rodriguez found some comforting nostalgia.
Melani, the quarterback, and Rodriguez, tight end, connected on a 25-yard touchdown pass in the final minute of their high school careers. It was the first touchdown pass Melani had thrown to Rodriguez since the pair made it rain in eighth grade football, a connection cut short when Rodriguez tore his ACL in a University of Colorado preseason camp before his sophomore season.
“I was planning on playing with him for another four years, but I just got hurt,” said Rodriguez, who was in his first year back since the injury this season. “Coming back out here my senior year and playing with Jordan and all kinds of guys we played with, the offensive line and the other receivers, man, it was real good to get a touchdown.”
Melani said he knew the Burlington safety would crash down hard to defend a receiver if he looked to the left, which would leave Rodriguez wide open on the right.
Melani found an uncovered Rodriguez running free to his right. Rodriguez caught the ball and cut to the center of the field untouched for the score.
“In eighth grade we had touchdowns all the time,” Melani said. “All of this year we’ve just been talking about, ‘We’re gonna get that touchdown. We’re gonna get that touchdown. One of these days, we’re gonna get that passing touchdown just like four or five years ago.’
“That was the best feeling ever watching him catch that pass in the end zone.”
And it wasn’t just for them. It also was a statement score for the team.
“It meant a lot. I think it meant a lot to the team, too,” Rodriguez said. “We just wanted to come back fighting and put up some points. Everyone knew we weren’t going to win this game, but we wanted to keep fighting and score points.”
The sentimental play amidst a shockingly lopsided loss capped a Lions season that began with a disappointing loss and a 10-win run to the state semifinals.
Melani said that after the first game when the Lions fell to Lutheran, they began to doubt themselves. Following a hill-running session at the following Monday’s practice, the coaches left them to work out their problems on their own.
“They said, ‘You guys aren’t playing like a team, figure it out,'” Melani said. “And they left us there on that baseball field just to talk to each other. That’s when we really united and we took 10 more games in a row after that.”
From the bitter beginning of the season to the heartbreaking end, it was the Lions’ commitment to one another that got them through the tough times.
Brad Cochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.