Snow fell as the Germantown Bears and Martin Luther King Cougars took opposite sides of Benjamin L. Johnson Memorial Field for their 34th time facing off on Thanksgiving.
The stands on either side of the field were sparse with fans at kickoff, but by the end of the first quarter both sides were up to their customary noisy banter, barking through a thick white squall.
The game took the feel of the weather. Hard and punishing.
Ice clogged in players’ cleats and both teams settled into a grinding and scoreless ground battle.
The game opened up when Germantown’s William Parks broke away for a fifteen yard run that put the first six points on the board with only 2:23 left in the half.
Ackeno Robertson ran the ball in moments later for the conversion, and the first two cold, wet quarters ended with Germantown on top 8 to 0.
The traditional half time tiff between sides got a little uncomfortable when the mascots lost their heads. The expected on-field dust up between the Cougar and Bear ended when the two performers went to the ground in a pile and rolled halfway out of their costumes.
When the game resumed, play wasn’t much prettier.
Penalties seemed to kill everything MLK started, and the Germantown running game, though convincing at times, wasn’t able to clock-in many more yards.
But the weather improved. Thick, sticky snow changed to driving sleet.
Finally the Cougars came alive. Following a forty yard completion to Randy Siler, with 7:24 left in the game, Cougar’s running back Malik Paulk came up with a short TD run.
Quarterback Curtis Witherspoon followed up with a conversion to tie the game.
MLK was going strong until a fumble gave Germantown possession at the 50 yard line, and the Bears’ last opportunity of the quarter.
Germantown strung together several solid plays. As the clock wound down, the Bears backed the Cougars up to their own 5 yard line.
But the Cougars held on, and the rivalry went into overtime.
Germantown was the first score in OT with a blazing run by Jarell Saunders, making the score 14 to 8, for the Bears.
MLK answered when quarterback Curtis Witherspoon got the Bears moving the wrong way and took off across a nearly vacant patch of real estate to power past three Bear defenders for the second tying touchdown of the game.
Then Malik Paulk clutched the game-winning extra point.
Final score: Martin Luther King 15 – Germantown 14.
MLK coach John Sheroda was ecstatic for the win. Like Germantown, the Cougars only had three victories this year, so to end the season beating their rivals is something special.
“We don’t get too many of these too often,” he said. “We started out the game rough, but we came together.”
But the Bears’ coach Michael Hawkins didn’t get a chance to help his players put such a tough loss into context. An on-field brawl broke out between the teams as they were shaking hands.
Coaching staff from both sides and 20 to 30 police poured onto the pitch to break up the row.
Apparently no one was hurt, but Hawkins was furious when he collected his team together afterward.
“We have never had anything like this, never,” he yelled as they sat with one knee planted in front of him.
Some Germantown players were clearly still upset listening to the cheers of the MLK fans leaving the stadium. Hawkins waited. And when things were quieter, he spoke to those feelings.
“Think about how you feel right now,” he said. “But I don’t want this spreading to the neighborhood. Leave it here.”
As he left the field to get ready for the annual Thanksgiving team dinner, Hawkins said this kind of thing has only happened once or twice in his memory, which extends back to 1976, when he first started coaching at Germantown.
He told his coaches they should have made sure they were more spread out when the two teams came together after the game, so they could see if something was brewing. In fairness to the coaches, virtually all of the police were also a long run away from the action when the scuffle began.
Either way, Hawkins was determined to use even that low point as a tool to move the team forward next year.
“I’m definitely going to use it as a coaching point,” he said.