Columns & Blogs

Our Friday Night Football saw both ends of spectrum this week

Let's face it, the end of most football games is anticlimactic.

Other sports have their dramatic conclusions -- basketball's buzzer-beating shots, baseball's walk-off home runs, golf's winning birdie putt dropping into the cup -- but a football game's climax tends to come before the final play.

With the rare exception of a field goal as time expires, the vast majority of football games end with a player taking a knee and the teams converging to shake hands even before the clock has officially run out.

But Beaufort County fans saw two endings Friday night that were far from mundane and represented the best and worst that high school football can be.

At Hilton Head High, visiting Berkeley was in a position to take a knee and run out the clock for one of those anticlimactic endings we're used to seeing. But the Stags instead used the opportunity to make a young Seahawk's night one he won't soon forget.

Berkeley conveniently allowed Hilton Head High's Chip Mullen, a senior with Down syndrome, to return a fumble 65 yards for a touchdown on the last play of the Stags' 31-20 victory.

Chip's teammates mobbed him in the end zone, and Berkeley's players rushed out to shake his hand. Chip's smile, I'm told, beamed under the Friday night lights.

I wasn't there for this one, but I've seen many of Chip's glories on the wrestling mat first-hand, and each leaves a lasting image of pure happiness.

At the other end of the county, Whale Branch and Ridgeland high schools provided a snapshot of how quickly the purity of high school sports can turn ugly.

After six personal foul penalties -- four against Whale Branch and two against Ridgeland -- things spiraled out of control when the Jaguars scored a touchdown and two-point conversion to extend their lead to 42-18 with 16 seconds left.

After the conversion run, tempers flared, and coaches from both sidelines rushed onto the field to try to break things up.

Just when things seemed to be under control, something -- no one seemed to know exactly what it was immediately after the game -- threw fuel on the fire. Players from both sidelines streamed onto the field, followed in short order by more coaches, administrators and police officers.

When the teams were separated, they were sent off -- the Warriors to their locker room, and the Jaguars to their bus -- and the game was ended with 16 ticks left on the clock.

The incident is sure to have a lasting effect on the remainder of the season. At the very least, a number of players are likely to be suspended for at least one game, and the S.C. High School League typically has sanctioned teams involved in such incidents, often with postseason bans.

Two of the more unique endings to a football game you'll ever see, on the same night, in the same county.

One makes your heart swell and your eyes well. The other leaves you wishing you'd seen someone take a knee.