The teams had shown themselves to be very evenly matched in all departments of the game. On offence Brimfield had done a trifle better, if we except the forward-pass made by her adversary, the only one so far attempted by either side. On defence Claflin had proved no stronger than the Maroon-and-Grey. In punting, Harris, for Brimfield, and Wentworth, for Claflin, had shown about the same ability, what advantage there might be being in favour of Harris, whose punts had been a little better placed. So far it was anybody's game, and the rival schools, during the intermission, sang and cheered loudly and confidently.
In the locker-room at the gymnasium Mr. Robey and the assistant coaches dealt praise and censure and instruction. Several of the fellows had been pretty well played out at the end of the half. Claflin had paid a good deal of attention to the centre of Brimfield's line—later it transpired that rumours had reached Westplains to the effect that Brimfield's centre trio were weak on defence—and both Captain Innes and Hall were rather battered up. Blaisdell had come out of it with less punishment. There were no injuries of moment, however, even Roberts, whose shoulder had been bruised, being ready to go back. As the time to return to the field approached Mr. Robey called for attention.
"I want to tell you fellows," he said quietly, "that you've played well. You've done as much as I'd hoped you'd do. You've held Claflin away from your goal, and in doing that you've done a good deal, for you've been up against as fine a Blue team as they've ever got together. But from now on you've got to have punch, fellows. You've got to play faster and harder. Claflin will try everything she knows. She isn't beaten, not by a whole lot, and she's going to come back hard. I want to see improvement in the backfield in this half. You backs haven't helped the forwards as you've been taught to do and as you can do. You've let the runner have an extra yard or two yards time and again. Go in hard and stop the man before he gets clear. You've been waiting for him to come to you. Don't do that. Go in and meet him. Every inch counts. Now, then, let's see what you can do for Brimfield this time. Play hard. When you tackle, stop your man. When you block, block hard and long. Put every ounce of strength into the game from now on and I'll promise you that you'll take that football back to Brimfield with you!"
Claflin had made four changes in her line-up when the teams faced each other again, and Brimfield two. On the latter team Carmine was at quarter and Gafferty had taken Tom Hall's place at right guard. Roberts was back in his position at the right end of the line. Jack Innes settled the ball on the mound of earth, glanced over his team, cried "Ready, sir!" stepped forward and punted obliquely across the field toward the Claflin stand. The second half was on and the laurel of victory was still to be won.
That oblique kick-off had been prearranged and by the time the Claflin right guard had called it his the Maroon-and Grey forwards were down on him. His frantic attempt to gather the ball into his arms failed and it bounded away toward the side line. Blaisdell fell on it a foot from the mark and Brimfield shouted joyfully. From Claflin's thirty-six yards to her twenty the Brimfield backs carried the pigskin. There Roberts was caught holding and the Maroon-and-Grey was set back. Harris fell back as if to kick and threw forward to Roberts on Claflin's twelve. Roberts caught, but was stopped for no more gain. The Brimfield stand cheered hoarsely and unceasingly, the cheerleaders never letting up for a moment. Harris plugged the Claflin centre for two, St. Clair got three around left tackle and Harris made it first down on the Blue's two yards directly in front of goal by a criss-cross play through right guard. Brimfield went crazy then and cries of "Touchdown! Touchdown! Touchdown!" thundered across from the stand.
Carmine and Captain Innes conferred. St. Clair was chosen to try the right tackle. But there was no hole there and he lost a yard. Harris banged out less than two feet at right guard. St. Clair again tried right tackle and got through for one. Harris fell back to kick. The stands quieted. Innes passed low and Harris took too much time. The ball bounded away from an upstretched hand and Carmine fell on it at the twenty-two yards.
Once more Brimfield took up the journey. A forward-pass to Edwards went short and Clint knocked it out of the eager hands of a Claflin player. Two attempts by Kendall advanced the ball but four yards and Harris again went back to kicking position. He was on the twenty-six yards and just to the left of the goal and Brimfield fully expected a score. But when the ball went to him he tucked it under his arm and shot to the left in an effort to skirt the end. The attempt just failed to gain the distance and the ball went to Claflin on downs. The maroon-and-grey flags that a moment before had been waving riotously now wilted dejectedly.
Claflin failed to gain on two downs and punted short to midfield, where Carmine caught and eluded half the enemy before he was forced over the side line for a gain of eight yards. The ball was paced in at Claflin's forty-six and Kendall, from kick formation, got nine outside right tackle, Clint opening the hole. Harris made it first down. A forward-pass, Carmine to Edwards, grounded. Carmine took the ball for four through centre, St. Clair failed to gain and Harris punted to the Blue's five-yard line. Wentworth made a fair-catch and punted on second down, after a plunge at right tackle had netted two yards. Kendall caught and was stopped for no gain.
The ball was on Claflin's forty-six yards. Harris, on a delayed pass play, made three outside left tackle and Kendall got away for seven and first down. Kendall again got free around the left of the Blue's line and reeled off six more before he was tackled. He was hurt and Freer took his place. The latter at once distinguished himself by breaking straight through the Claflin left guard for five yards, and it was first down again on the Blue's twenty-five.
It seemed now that nothing was going to stop the Brimfield machine short of the goal line, for the offence it was showing was far superior to anything exhibited that afternoon by either team. Claflin was proving weaker at the ends of her line than expected and her tackles were showing the strain. The end of the period sounded after Freer had been stopped for a yard.
Claflin put in a new right guard and a fresh right tackle and returned two of her former men to the line. Coach Robey sent Hall back, but made no other change. The teams doffed blankets once more and again faced each other on the Blue's twenty-four yards.
Claflin hoped for nothing better, perhaps, than a no-score result, for her attack had several times failed to get under way and her opponent seemed to be gaining strength rather than losing it. Carmine, acting under instructions from Coach Robey, now opened up his bag of tricks. A long side-pass to Edwards, followed by a forward heave to Roberts, across the field, brought the Maroon-and-Grey supporters leaping to their feet, for Roberts caught the long pass high in the air, dodged a frantic Claflin end and raced straight toward the goal line. Only the fact that he slipped near the ten-yard line prevented a score then and there. That instant's falter brought the enemy down on him and, although he managed to squirm forward another yard, he was stopped. But it looked a short distance from the nine yards to the final white line, and Brimfield implored a touchdown.
Harris was hurled against the desperate blue line and made a scant two yards, and was found threshing his arms about when the players were torn apart. Time was taken out and, after the full-back had been administered to, he was supported to the bench and the eager Rollins cantered on. Again came a bewildering trick-play, with a delayed pass from Innes to Freer and a straight dash at the line by St. Clair after a short lateral pass. But, although Claflin's forwards faltered, the secondary defence came to the rescue and St. Clair gained only two yards. It was third down now, with five to go, and from both sides of the gridiron came the imploring shout of the rival "rooters." Brimfield chanted "Touchdown! Touchdown!" and Claflin hoarsely begged her warriors to "Hold 'em, Claflin! Hold 'em, Claflin!"
And Claflin held them!
With Harris out of the line-up, Carmine hesitated to try a field-goal, and when, after another yard and a half had been gained by Freer, the goal line was still almost four yards away, he risked all on a forward-pass. Edwards managed to sneak into position beyond the goal line, but Carmine's toss went wide and Claflin fell on the ball back of the post. Blue flags waved wildly then, while, across the dimming field, the Brimfield stand was silent and disappointed.
Six minutes still remained of that final quarter, however, and the Maroon-and-Grey took courage again. When the teams lined up once more Still was at left half, Trow at right tackle and Thursby had taken Jack Innes's place. Claflin played desperately then and, almost before Brimfield realised it, had reached the middle of the field. Trow was weak and several gains were made past him. Thursby, too, had not found his pace. Claflin succeeded with a short forward-pass and twice made five-and six-yard gains around the Brimfield right end. But at the fifty-yard line the Blue's Advance was halted and Claflin was forced to punt. The kick was short and high and went out near the Maroon-and-Grey's thirty-yard line. Carmine hurled Freer at the centre for four, the same player slid off left tackle for three more and Carmine himself made it first down on a wide end-run. Once more Brimfield took up its journey toward the distant goal line.
Lateral passes, forward passes, delayed plays, all were used and all gained something, while Freer and Still and Freer again slid past the tackles, Carmine shot through here and there like a jack rabbit and the slower-moving Rollins bucked the line for less spectacular gains. Past the centre of the field rolled the Maroon-and-Grey, past the forty yards, past the thirty. Claflin fought tooth and nail, despairingly, desperately, longing for the whistle that should announce the end.
Just past the thirty-yard line Brimfield had a setback and her progress was halted when Gafferty was caught off-side. It became second down then with fifteen to go and Rollins trotted back up the field and held his arms out. But Claflin wasn't looking for a punt on second down and so was not deceived as to her opponent's intentions. What did deceive her, though, was the play that came off. For the ball was snapped to Freer, and Freer, after running across the field, passed back to Carmine and that youth, twisting on his heel, dashed straight into the confusion of friend and foe, dodging, feinting, twisting, and emerged on the other side and raced on for the goal line. But near the twenty he was brought low by a Claflin back, and it was third down and a half-yard to go. Carmine pantingly demanded the time. The answer was two minutes.
It was Still who got the necessary half-yard, together with a yard more for good measure. Claflin halted the game while an injured right end was nursed back to an interest in life, and in that interim Coach Robey sent in three substitutes. Sherrard went in for Edwards, Holt for Roberts, and Saunders, limping a little, took the place of Trow at right tackle. Clint had his head-guard ready to hand over when he saw Saunders trot on and was more than surprised when the former left tackle passed him by and laid his hand on Trow's arm. Holt evidently brought a message from Coach Robey, for he dragged Carmine back and whispered to him. What the instructions were was soon apparent, for when the whistle shrilled again the Maroon-and-Grey began a relentless hammering of the Blue's left side, hurling her backs at guard and tackle, and, although Claflin sent her backs to the rescue of the beleaguered forwards, the gains came consistently and grew longer and longer. The Maroon-and-Grey, on the eight yards now, was again demanding surrender.
Clint, with a swollen mouth and a piece of dirty surgeon's plaster running slantwise above his right eye, panting for breath, bathed in perspiration, watched his adversary as Carmine yelped his signals again. Only eight yards to go and four downs to do it in. Clint scented victory and his nerves grew tense as he waited. Then he was pushing and wrenching and once more the hole was opened wide and once more Freer, playing like a wildcat, smashed past him. Clint followed through, met a Claflin back and sent him staggering aside. Freer, tackled but still fighting, dragged himself on and on. And then the unexpected happened.
The shout came frantically from somewhere and Clint saw the pigskin, squeezed from the half-back's arms, bound into air. A blue-sleeved arm shot toward it, and another, but the ball, bouncing away from an eager hand, went, turning lazily over and over in its flight, toward the side line. Clint turned swiftly and pursued, elbowed by others. He shot an arm out to the left and cleared his path. Cries and pounding footsteps came to his ears. Away rolled the ball, spurning the five-yard line, seemingly bent on trickling out of bounds. A blue-jerseyed player tried to edge past Clint, but the latter swung in front of him. Then he was on the ball, and up again with it tucked against his stomach, and was plunging toward the goal line, a scant six yards away! A Claflin man dived at him and strove to pinion his knees, but with a wrench Clint tore one leg free and staggered on another stride. Arms clutched him about the shoulders and it seemed that he was pulling a ton of weight with him. Then there was a shock, his legs went from under him and he toppled to earth. But as he fell, and as the last breath in his body seemed to leave him forever, he pushed the ball away from him at arm's length and set his fingers about it like so many vises! And that was the last he knew.
When he opened his eyes he was being sloshed with water from a big, smelly sponge, and the trainer's little green eyes were above his.
"What is it?" he asked dazedly.
"It's a touchdown, my boy! A touchdown by a bare two inches! And how do you feel?"
Clint smiled as he closed his eyes again for a moment and became aware that the sound which had before seemed like the pounding of surf on the shore was the steady cheering of Brimfield's supporters. "I feel—all right," he answered, "and—and for the love of mud take that beastly sponge out of my mouth!"
The trainer chuckled, and at that instant the cheering rose to a new height of intensity.
"What's that?" asked Clint, struggling to get up.
"Rollins kicked goal," was the answer. "Lie still a minute, boy."
"Then—then we've won?" exclaimed Clint, realisation of victory pouring over him like a wave and setting his heart to thumping.
"We have; seven to nothing; and there goes the whistle and it's all over for another year, thank Heaven! And now you'd best get on your feet, for they'll be after you in a minute!"
And they were, a score of them, with Amy in the lead, Amy laughing and jubilant and devil-may-care! And Clint, protesting, still a bit faint and pale, but immeasurably happy, was lifted to willing shoulders from where, a little vaguely, he looked down upon a sea of frantically cheering youths who waved maroon-and-grey banners and behaved in the time-honoured custom of the conqueror.
"Gangway!" shouted Amy. "Hold tight, Clint! Here we go, fellows! Gangway!"
Clint's bearers broke into a shambling run, and Clint, clutching tightly at Amy's neck, lurched and bobbed dizzily as they hurried across the field. For an instant he caught a view of the gravely pleased countenance of Penny Durkin. Penny waved and was lost to sight again. Other faces he knew swam past him. Smiles and shouts and waving hands greeted him. Other players, caught before escape was possible, were swaying about in front of the stand where Brimfield was forming into a procession to march in triumph about the trampled field of battle. Straight for the head of the parade scuttled Amy and his cohorts. "Gangway!" babbled Amy. "Let us through here!"
"Amy!" remonstrated Clint. "Let me down, you crazy Indian! I—I'm tired!"
"Let you down!" cried Amy incredulously. "Not much! You're a bloomin' hero, Clint, and you've got to act the part. You're the chap who knocked the 'laf' out of Claflin! Hold your head up now and look like Napoleon!"
"But, Amy, honest—"
"Shut up and don't queer the show! Gangway! Gangway for Left Tackle Thayer!"