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Harrisburg football, town get on the board for the first time

Saturday, August 24, 2013 | 12:47 a.m. CDT; updated 12:52 a.m. CDT, Saturday, August 24, 2013
Harrisburg High School football players pray together Friday before they take the field for the first time during a scrimmage against Fayette High School at Central Methodist University.

FAYETTE — Philip McMahan and the Harrisburg faithful erupted when the Bulldogs' Roscoe Roland broke free for a first down and the first big play in the school's history.

Roland received a pass from quarterback Blake Williams, juked a Fayette defender and sped down the near sideline before being pushed out of bounds close to the end zone. It was the Bulldogs' first football contest, and it was the first time Harrisburg fans got loud.

They got louder on the next play, when Drew Ewens drove through the line and into the end zone, scoring the first ever touchdown against an opposing team in Bulldog history.

The touchdown briefly interrupted 1-year-old Victoria McMahan's meal of Beechnut Bananas baby food. Victoria's mother, Kathy McMahan, fed her as she watched the game and filled out a sign-up sheet that asked for volunteers to make pre-game snack bags.

"There's not that many kids," she said, explaining how their section of fans knew who each player was, even from their distant vantage point in the stands.

Philip McMahan agreed: "It's a tight-knit community," he said. "Everybody knows everybody."

The McMahans and their tight-knit community filled two sections of the stadium at Central Methodist University. They came to watch their son, Tyler, and the rest of the Bulldogs scrimmage Fayette, Slater and Summit Christian Academy in the school's first ever football jamboree. It was a night of many firsts for the football team and the fans, and it was a night that showcased the pride of a small community rallying around its team.

The Harrisburg fans traveled well and showed out. Several little girls wore red pompoms in their hair, and most of the fans dressed in red. While there were a lot of Bulldog basketball shirts — Harrisburg is known for its prep basketball — there were also a lot of new Harrisburg football shirts.

Lisa Baker, wearing a "Dawgs Gone Bad" T-shirt, explained the football fanfare: "This has been a long time coming," she said. "The whole community has wanted to see this for a while. It's awesome to see them out there."

Baker's son Jeffrey was on the sideline for the game, having fractured his arm in two places during practice. But he was dressed in his new uniform, and he and the rest of the Bulldogs looked smart in their new get-ups.

"I wish I was out there," he said. "For being our first football game and against varsity teams, they did great."

Not everything was great, though. In addition to scoring their first touchdown, the Bulldogs were also scored on for the first time. It came quickly. On the second play of the first series, the Fayette quarterback kept the ball on an option and sprinted into the end zone untouched.

"It just got real," Harrisburg athletic director Doug Fessler remarked as the Fayette player trotted in for the score.

There was the first penalty and the first blown coverage. There was also the first injury. A Bulldog player who suffered a stinger — and who held it together through the rest of the scrimmage — finally broke down after the team's closing huddle, clinging to head coach Travis Kinkade.

While the Bulldogs showed their inexperience, they played with class and resilience. Their fans showed the same class, congratulating opposing players and fans and enjoying the opportunity to watch football.

"This community and these kids are motivated to do whatever it takes to make football work," Lisa Baker said.

Philip McMahon's face said it all as he watched the kids out on the field. It was "awesome," he said, "just seeing Harrisburg High School out there in football uniforms."

Odds are he'll still be beaming when he watches the Bulldogs in their home opener against Tipton at 6 p.m. Sept. 3.

WHITNEY HAYWARD/Missourian

Harrisburg's Roscoe Rowland runs for a first down near the goal line with Fayette defensive backs Chance Goff, left, and Chance Roberts, center, and linebacker Andrew Simmons on Friday at Central Methodist University. Harrisburg scored two total touchdowns at the jamboree.

WHITNEY HAYWARD/Missourian

Jackie Wardrip holds her son Beau, 1, and cheers as the Harrisburg football team takes the field Friday for the first time at Central Methodist University.

WHITNEY HAYWARD/Missourian

Harrisburg football head coach Travis Kinkade gives his team a pep talk Friday before its first time taking to the field in pads in a scrimmage at Central Methodist University. 

WHITNEY HAYWARD/Missourian

Harrisburg High School lineman Cortney Franklin sits on the sidelines after getting hit under his helmet, injuring his nose, during a scrimmage against Summit Christian Academy at Central Methodist University. "Coach told me I can't go back in for the rest of the game," Franklin said. "But I just want to be out there with my team."


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