HAMMOND | The scoreboard burned bright in the northern end zone. A cold, crisp wind blew in from the lake over the top of the rectangular that read, “34-0.”
Out on the field, Morton's Jerry Brown spoke loud as he shook hands with the Highland Trojans. He said what all in the region should be speaking now.
“Good game, ya'll,” Brown said. “Keep your head up. Keep your heads up. You guys had a great run.”
Four weeks ago, Highland Trojans football was the punch line for a joke. The Blue and Gold won one game in the regular season. It wasn't pretty. But something magical happened once sectionals kicked off.
A huge win over rival Griffith. Another shocker in a blowout against West Side. All the momentum was on Highland's side when the Class 4A Sectional 9 championship game started in Hessville.
“It's been amazing,” Trojans senior Jacob Melton said after the better team, the Governors, won 34-0. “I couldn't have asked for anything more. Our team came together. We all stepped it up. We never quit. We never stopped fighting.”
Morton won its fourth straight sectional championship with better athletes and football players. But a decade ago, it was the Govs who were where Highland is now. Going from bad to better to …
Two things occurred the last three weeks that will help Highland football continue to grow. First, the players began to believe. Then, they learned how to fight even when the scoreboard shifted away from them.
Down 7-0, Morton's Kendall Huff was going into the end zone when Derek Lindsey made a hit and recovered the fumble for a stop. The Govs would score later in the frame to make it 14-0 at the half.
But it was Melton who blocked a field goal attempt in the final seconds to keep it a two-possession game.
“It's been a fun ride,” Highland coach Trent Grider said. “It hasn't happened here in awhile. We've still got a way to go but we played really well for two games.”
The hardest high school program to turn around is football. It doesn't happen overnight. It's baby steps. One, followed by two, followed by three and so on.
The Trojans' program got a huge shot in the arm this autumn. Now, if the remaining underclassmen work and battle in the offseason like they did for much of this Morton game, the steps will keep going in the right direction.
Some very good Pop Warner teams in the town are just a few years away from walking the halls. This community is hungry for a winner and they are not as far away as before.
With 8:15 left in the third quarter, Matt Holl ran for a first down. It was Highland's second first down of the game. The packed bleachers went nuts. It's easier to work hard when people are behind you with support.
Later, Melton blocked an extra point when the Govs took a 27-0 lead. He, like the eight seniors in blue, never quit.
And they did something that no one expected or believed. They can hang that on their resume as they move on.
“I've always been proud to wear this uniform,” Melton said. “It just means a little more making it to the sectional championship game.”
The scoreboard, no matter how bright, does not always define who the winner is.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.