HARRISBURG — Football officially arrived in Harrisburg on Tuesday night, as the Bulldogs won their first ever game, a junior varsity contest against Tipton.
The final score was 14-12 in favor of Harrisburg.
Almost 500 fans came out to watch the historic moment for the school and the town. It was the quintessential small-town American scene.
When the Bulldogs kicked off at 6:04 p.m., the shadows were beginning to grow long on the field. Accompanying the shadows were some patchy dirt spots and the remnants of an incorrectly placed 40-yard line on the near sideline. The line was five yards off, having been painted on the 45-yard line, and looked like it had been buffed out prior to the game.
There is no press box at Harrisburg, nor is there a scoreboard. A small electronic display sits in the southeast corner of the field and shows the score, quarter and time remaining.
The length of the field runs north to south, with the home stands — the only stands — sitting on the west side. The stands are divided into four sections, two larger sections of bleachers flanked by two smaller risers. And they were filled with red-clad fans.
Those who couldn't find a seat in the bleachers sat in lawnchairs on either side of them, lining the chain-link fence that circles the field. By 6:30 p.m. the number of lawn-dwellers had grown. An announcement then sounded over the loudspeaker, inviting fans to sit behind the north end zone where another small section of bleachers stood.
John Canote, a junior at Harrisburg, sat in those bleachers, cheering on the Bulldogs. "It feels like we're making history right now," Canote said. "We're starting tradition, and we're excited for the years to come to see what we can make of this program," he said.
With AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" playing in the background, Canote proudly recalled Harrisburg's first-ever touchdown, a 35-yard pass from Blake Berry to Drew Ewens, which took place right in front of him in the north end zone.
"Seeing Drew Ewens come in here, fist pumping — I was cheering loud. He looked me in the eyes and looked like he was having fun, so that was exciting," Canote said.
And Ewens was having fun.
"It was spectacular," Ewens said. "Just being the first in history — it was a really good throw — and I'm just glad I got into it. Thirty-five yards."
"Right when I left my hands I knew it was a touchdown," Berry said.
Both Berry and Ewens said the football program means a lot to Harrisburg. "It's ... something for us to rally around, and basically football's just a totally different sport than this town is used to," Ewens said.
"It takes a lot more tradition, and it's a lot more family-oriented," Ewens added.
Berry agreed: "Football's gonna be the future of this school, hopefully, in a couple of years," he said. "Everyone here believes this is a basketball school, and I believe in five or more years this will be a football school," Berry said.
Harrisburg football coach Travis Kinkade prepared early for the game. Kinkade was up at 5:30 a.m. tending to the field and had to delay planning for the game. "It wasn't until about 3:45, 4, that I was able to sit down and do this stuff," he said.
Despite drafting his game plan late in the afternoon, Kinkade's team pulled through. They prevailed on a gutsy late fourth-quarter drive. Jacob Rudkin scored on a 2-yard run with 2:05 left in the game, which tied the game at 12-12.
Blake Williams then converted a two-point conversion to put the Bulldogs ahead for good. Though Tipton got the ball back with time on the clock, Harrisburg's defense held strong, forcing a turnover on downs with just 0:50 left.
The Bulldogs went into "victory formation," taking a knee for the last two plays of the game. Kinkade said that the players just learned that play in the previous day's practice.
"I think that [practicing the victory formation] really helped them," Kinkade said. "I didn't get the wild-eyed look when I said, 'Victory offense!'"