The Rebels of Maryville High School were on the doorstep of their third consecutive TSSAA state title in Division 1, 6A going into Saturday night's championship game against the Whitehaven High Tigers at Tennessee Tech University's Tucker Stadium in Cookeville, Tenn.
In a rematch of the 2011 championship game, Whitehaven closed the door on Maryville's title hopes, emerging with a 36-35 overtime victory – the cap to a perfect 15-0 season.
Interesting doesn't even begin to describe this game. By the time the game had gone into overtime, the Tigers' fans were already on the edge of their seats. As I watched the game on television (WKNO), I couldn't help but realize how this one game had become a community gathering for the citizens of Memphis and Shelby County. It didn't matter whether you were at the stadium, watching at home or keeping up with the score via Twitter and Facebook.
I saw church members in the stands, former classmates cheering on the sidelines and even a few players I knew.
"The atmosphere was amazing," was the description from Whitehaven High cheerleader, Jazmine Mitchell. "Fans from both sides stood and cheered for their team the whole game!"
The game seemed to be in a tie whenever I looked up at the score. My football fanatic mother was repeatedly jumping around yelling "Go, Go, Go" and "Yea Baby!" throughout the duration of the contest. I could tell from all of the excitement and emotion I saw that night this was much more than an average win for this team.
The look on the faces of the players and coaches after their victory told a story of hard work, consistency and faith. Jeffery Hines, one of head coach Rodney Saulsberry's fraternity brothers, said, "I came in town from D.C. to support my friend, coach Saulsberry, and the other assistant coaches. I hope they take some time to enjoy this win."
Whitehaven accomplished its own personal goal, and did it with the City of Memphis behind them.
"The show of love from the community has been great for the student athletes, the City and the School," said coach Saulsberry. "This win and experience has been surreal."