Early in the fourth quarter, senior running back Michael Ferns broke through the line near midfield, and nothing but daylight stood between the St. Clairsville High School star and his twelfth touchdown of the season. Then he stopped short at the one-yard line and intentionally walked out of bounds. "Mike ran the play to perfection," coach Brett McLean said later.
What happened next in the October 5 varsity game against Richmond Edison High School seemed even stranger. Trailing the play because Ferns had broken through the line so quickly, the referees signaled a touchdown because they assumed that he had crossed the goal line. St. Clairsville players quickly approached the refs to argue that their teammate had not scored. The refs changed their call, and the Red Devils huddled for the next play.
Who ever heard of a team arguing that they had not scored? Fans could not figure out what was happening, but everyone on St. Clairsville's bench knew. Everyone, that is, except one player - Logan Thompson, a starter on the freshman team who dressed for varsity games but had seen no varsity action all season.
"Just Follow Ferns"
Two days earlier, Logan's father had died suddenly of a stroke as Logan broke down the bathroom door with a baseball bat to try to get at him before help arrived. Logan decided, even before the funeral, that he would suit up for the Edison game and cheer his varsity teammates because he felt that his father would have wanted him to. The Thompson family had been loyal to the team all season, even though Logan remained on the bench because coach McLean rarely played freshmen in varsity games.
McLean, his staff, and the team's leaders had a plan: get close to a touchdown, and then call on Logan to run the next play and honor his father with his first score. No player knew which one would have the opportunity to set up the freshman, but everyone agreed that it was the right thing to do.
With the ball on the one-yard line after Ferns' 52-yard run, coach McLean yelled down the bench for Logan and told him to go in at running back, a position he had never played. With Logan unsure of what to do, the coach gave him a play and told him, "Just follow Ferns." Logan took the handoff and scampered through an opening between right guard and tackle for his first touchdown. "I saw this humongous hole," Logan said later, "I don't think our line has blocked that well this whole season."
"I Just Wanted to Do What I Could"
"Logan was going through so much, and for a few minutes we helped him get his mind off of things," said coach McLean, who added that, "I wanted him to get into the end zone so badly I almost went out there and blocked for him." "I don't know how that feels" to lose a father, but "I just wanted to do what I could," added Ferns, who recently committed to play at the University of Michigan next year.
And Logan on Twitter? "Looking straight up into the sky after scoring my first varsity touchdown. . . . I know the old man was watching! Love and miss you so much daddy."
Recipe for Success
Reacting to an unfortunate incident that, fortunately, rarely happens in youth sports, the St. Clairsville Red Devils demonstrated key ingredients of team cohesion: coaches who care about their players' emotions, and teammates who willing to sacrifice personal accolades for a teammate in time of need. St. Clairsville beat Richmond Edison, 56-27, and Logan Thompson's touchdown helped unite the team as it prepared for the state playoffs.
On November 30, the undefeated Red Devils lost a hard-fought Division IV state title game to Clarksville Clinton-Massey, 46-36. "Obviously, this hurts right now, but I know these young men will reflect on this experience for the rest of their lives," St. Clairsville coach McLean said after the title game. The Red Devils could reflect with pride on their 14-0 regular-season record - plus a victory won early in the fourth quarter on October 5.
Sources: Jason Jordan, Selfless Act Enables High School Player to Honor His Father, USA Today, October 12, 2012; Chantel Jennings, Team Delivers Touching Moment, http://espn.go.com/colleges/michigan/story/_/id/8547790/st-clairsville-f... Seth Staskey, St. Clairsville Falls to Clinton-Massie, Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register, Dec. 1, 2012.