Morgan Scott.

Ben Stone at Oakdale





CHAPTER XVIII.
THE GAME

Plunk! Clearports full back, Ramsdal, kicked off, booting the ball into the teeth of the wind. Over the chalk marks sped the end men, Long and Stoker, closing in from either side as the huge yellow egg began to drop.

Bern Hayden was in position to receive the ball, and, without removing his eyes from it, he realized that one or both of those oncoming men would be at hand to tackle him if he attempted to run. Therefore he lifted his hand in the proper signal for a fair catch and took the pigskin cleanly. Turning it deftly in his hands, he let it drop; and an instant later it was sailing away from his toe on the return to Clearports territory.

Buoyed by the wind, the ball soared on and on far past the center of the field, far over toward the eastern goal. It was immediately apparent that the home team, while defending that goal, could not afford to be led into a kicking game.

Cooper and Davis, playing ends for the visitors, followed the ball. Spotty was a really fast runner, being able to get over the ground with his thin legs in a way that should have given him a reputation as a sprinter. This fleetness put him in splendid position to tackle Boothby, Clearports left half back, who took the ball; but Spotty seemed to hesitate a bit at the moment when he should have plunged, and Boothby got away like a flash, Davis missing miserably when he flung himself at the fellow. Cooper, the slower, displayed more nerve, tackling the fleet half back and bringing him down after the ball had been advanced ten yards. Chipper rose, gasping, when the whistle had sounded the signal that the ball was down.

Ja-jarred me some, he stammered, with a sickly grin; but I got him.

Ready line up fast! called Eliot, perceiving that the enemy were swiftly getting into position for the first scrimmage. Stop em! Hold em!

Ben Stone found himself crouching nose to nose with Barney Carney, called the fighting Irishman of Clearport. He had been told about this fellow, and he recognized him instinctively.

Arrh, me bucko! Good avening, grinned Carney. Its a pleasure to meet yez.

Through Stones mind flashed the instructions of Winton, Stick by your man and get him every time.

Muzzle uplifted, Capt. Merwin, who played quarter for his team, bayed a signal. Stone saw the ball snapped to Merwin, and the moment it left the ground he leaped tigerishly at Carney. The Irishman had leaped at the same instant, and they came together with a crash which must have astonished the Clearport guard, for he was literally bowled aside, the Oakdale man hammering through like a battering-ram. Sleuth Piper, succeeding in keeping his man busy, aided Stone in getting through; and Ben was just in time to meet Boothby, who had received the ball from Merwin and was plunging at that very spot in the line. Boothbys rush was checked as if he had struck a wall of granite, and down to the turf he went, with Stones arms locked around his thighs.

Great luck! cried Piper, releasing Morehead; but there had been little luck about it, for even as he lunged at Carney Stone had seen Boothby shooting across behind Merwin in a manner which seemed to indicate beyond doubt that he would take the ball.

Having obeyed the instructions of the coach and disposed of Carney in a jiffy, Stones natural impulse was to meet and grapple with Boothby.

At the southern side of the field the crimson banners were wildly agitated, and a sudden cheer arose a cheer for Stone. Bens ears were deaf to that sound, however; he was wholly unaware that his name came snapping forth at the end of that cheer like a cracker at the end of a whiplash. The fire of battle was in his veins, and the only thing he heard was the booming of his heart like the distant throbbing of heavy guns.

Checked with a slight loss, the Clearporters made ready again. Once more Ben found himself vis ? vis with Barney Carney, in whose faded smile there was now a slight sickly tinge.

Its a loively birrud ye are, observed Carney; but your wings can be clipped. To which the grim-faced fellow opposite made no retort.

The signal came again, and again Stone and Carney met. This time, locked together, they struggled, neither gaining the slightest advantage. The tide of battle, however, swept to the far end of the line, toward which Oakes, the right half back, was racing with the pigskin.

It was Hayden who divined the play, and Hayden who came leaping to meet the runner. Tackling cleanly and handsomely, Bern stretched Oakes prone. As he rose he heard them cheering as they had cheered for Stone and he had not missed that.

Thats the stuff, fellows! cried Roger. Thats the way to hold them!

Winton, watching from his position at the side of the field, permitted a crinkle of a smile to flit across his face, even though he realized that the splendid and surprising defense had been accomplished, almost unaided, by two players. At the very outset Clearport had succeeded in one thing, at least had found the strong spots of the visiting team. Later certain weak spots which the coach was fearful of might be unmasked.

In desperation the locals made a furious slam into center, recovering, however, barely the distance lost; and then, forced to it, Ramsdal fell back to kick. Eliot was ready for this, and, seeming to gauge the distance the ball would travel, he took it cleanly and easily, shooting past the first man who came at him, dodging the second, and bringing the spectators to their feet by a run that carried him to Clearports thirty yard line ere he was forced out of bounds. And Winton smiled again, for another tower of strength had loomed through the smoke of battle.

The referee brought the ball out and placed it. The line-up followed, one or two anxious Clearporters being warned back ere the man in authority permitted the resumption of play.

Crouching before Carney, Stone heard Sage calling the signal. As his ears drank in the numbers, he gazed straight into the Irish lads eyes without a flicker crossing his face, even though he knew directly that much would depend upon him. He knew Hayden would come across with the ball, looking for the opening he must assist in making.

In another moment they were straining, breast to breast. With all his strength he sought to thrust Carney to one side. Cooper bucked Morehead handsomely, and the gap was made. Through it went Barker, with Bern at his heels. Barker sacrificed himself to Oakes, and before Ramsdal got him Hayden came within four yards of putting the ball over.

Four yards to go, and the first down! No wonder the crowd with the crimson banners seemed crazed; no wonder the blue banners were drooping on the northern side of the field.

Like water through a sieve, chuckled Chipper Cooper; and barely had the words left his lips when Sage began calling a signal which sent Barker into the other wing of the line.

Crane did his duty there, but Davis was weak, and Berlin met Stoker, who had hurled Spotty aside. Not an inch was gained.

Hold em, implored Merwin, weve got to hold em!

Another chance, fellows, said Eliot. We can make it.

Again that signal which told the visitors that Hayden would try the enemys right wing. Sage varied the call, but the key number was distinctly heard, and with the snapping of the ball Ben Stone flung himself bodily at the fighting Irishman. Merwin had leaped in to support Carney, yet both of them were not sufficient to check Stone and the man who was hurled against him from the rear. The Clearport line buckled and broke, and Hayden lunged through headlong for a touchdown.

My deduction is, panted Piper, that its a snap.

The Oakdale crowd cheered as the ball was punted out. Hayden was given the privilege of trying to kick a goal, and, absolutely confident of himself, he booted the ball against one of the uprights.

Never mind, grinned Chipper Cooper, as the Oakdalers spread out on the field with their backs toward the eastern goal. It would have been a shame to spoil the fun by taking all the sand out of them right away.

Indeed, it seemed that the visitors were too strong for the home team. Even when favored by the wind and sun, the Clearporters could not carry the fighting far into Oakdales territory, and they were soon compelled to surrender the ball by kicking.

Once more the lads from the inland town began bucking their way over the chalk marks, and frequently their best gains were secured through openings made by Stone and Piper. Barney Carney was livid with wrath, but his grim opponent remained outwardly unchanged. An end run by Barker again placed the visitors in a position to threaten Clearports goal. It was followed by a trick play, in which Barker drew attention to himself while Eliot went romping and zigzagging through a broken field and crossed the line for the second touchdown.

This time Roger kicked, and he lifted the pigskin squarely over the center of the crossbar.

Even to Winton it had begun to seem as if Oakdale was too strong for the locals. He was glad indeed that Clearport had not yet located certain weak spots of which he had entertained serious apprehension, but he knew they had not done this mainly on account of their half demoralized condition.

Following that second touchdown, Oakdale seemed to let up somewhat. This brought a frown to Wintons face, but he could do nothing until the half was finished.

Toward the end of the first half the visiting team took another spurt and seemed to have things pretty much its own way. Hayden was the principal ground gainer, and it was Stone who provided effective interference in assisting him to make his greatest distances. Twenty-five yards from the line, however, the locals stood firm. Then Sage called for a play by which Hayden was to pass the ball to Eliot just before dashing into the formation which had proved so effective. Eliot was to attempt to round the end.

This was carried through, Stone slamming into Carney in the regular manner. Hayden came at him from behind, while Eliot, having secured the ball, sought to race past Pete Long.

Something smote Ben with a terrific shock, and a sudden pall of darkness fell upon him. He sank to the ground just as Eliot was tackled and dragged down and the referees whistle shrilled the signal which told that the half was over.

CHAPTER XIX.
BETWEEN THE HALVES

Stone recovered to find some one sopping his face with a cool, dripping sponge. They had carried him off the field, and he was lying on a blanket behind the tiered seats, over the upper tier of which bent a row of sympathetic faces. His teammates were around him, being kept back by one or two fellows who insisted that he should have air.

What whats matter? he mumbled thickly, as he tried to sit up.

Easy, old fellow, said the voice of Roger Eliot, who had been applying the sponge. You were knocked stiff in that last scrimmage.

Scrimmage? echoed Ben uncertainly, vaguely fancying he had been in a fight with his bitter enemy. Did Bern Hayden

It wasnt Hayden. We tried to fool the Clearporters into thinking hed again go through with the ball, but he passed it to me. They downed me, though, just as the half ended.

Oh, said Stone, remembering at last, we were playing football.

That fightin Irishman must have soaked ye, observed Sile Crane. You had him crazy all right, the way you bucked him around.

Carney did not hit me, declared Ben positively.

Winton, like Eliot, had been working to bring Stone round. Well, he observed with satisfaction, you seem to be all right now. I reckon you can get back into the game for the next half, cant you?

Sure thing, was the prompt answer. Im not hurt any.

Thats the stuff, applauded the coach, rising to his feet. Thats the spirit that wins. Some of you fellows need a little more of it. Rollins, youre bigger and heavier than that man Hutt, but hes walked through you four or five times. Brace up and stop him. Davis, youve got to show more nerve. Dont be afraid of cracking yourself when you try to tackle; youre not crockery. Look alive, Tuttle, and get into the plays quicker. Sometimes you take root in your tracks.

Great ginger! gasped Chub in astonishment over this call-down. I thought we were all doing pretty well.

Give him a peanut, somebody, to brace him up, chuckled Chipper Cooper.

In another moment Chipper was shivering beneath the withering eye of the coach.

Youve got a whole lot to learn about football, said Winton. Move your feet when you go down the field under a kick. Davis can run around you twice and be ahead of you at the place where the ball falls.

Oh, jiminy crickets! gasped Cooper. Ive got mine! Stop your grinning, Spotty.

You all let up after that second touchdown, continued Winton. Did you think you had points enough? Have you a notion that theres danger of overexerting yourselves? You should have had two more touchdowns, at least. Clearport was growing better toward the last of it, and you fellows acted as if you had caught the hookworm. This kind of a football game is never won till its finished, dont forget that. If you quit a little bit in the next half youre liable to get it put all over you. Those fellows are good; theyre better than you are, but they dont know it. Let them wake up to the fact, and youll be lucky if they dont play you off your feet. Youve got to keep them so busy they wont find time to realize how good they are. Hayden, Id like a private word with you.

With a look of surprise on his face, Bern followed the coach, who stepped aside from the others. In a moment Winton was talking to him in low tones.

By gum! said Sile Crane. He sorter handed it right out to the whole of us, didnt he? I kinder thought he was goin to praise us for our fine work.

Cooper poked a thumb into Pipers ribs. He didnt say anything to you personally, did he, Sleuth? Wonder how you got by? Morehead had you groggy in that last smash.

Yes, admitted Sleuth, we butted our cocoanuts together, and my deduction is that hes got more head than I have.

Oh, you villain! exclaimed Chipper. You trespasser on my sacred preserves! I should have thought to say that myself. Look at Bern; hes getting excited. Wonder what Wintons drilling him for?

Hayden was indeed showing traces of excitement, for his face was flushed, his hands clenched, and he shook his head with an air of angry denial.

I saw you, said Winton, in a low, calm tone, I saw you slug Stone on the jaw with your fist, Hayden; its useless to deny it.

Its very strange, sneered Bern, that you were the only one who saw it. Where were the referees eyes?

Following the ball, doubtless. Carney swung Stone round sidewise as you lunged into the scrimmage, for doubtless he thought you had the ball, and he was trying to block you. It gave you a chance to hit Stone squarely on the side of the jaw, and you smashed him. Perhaps I was the only person who observed it; I hope I was. Youve played a brilliant game, Hayden, and you cant afford to let your temper and your hatred of Stone mar your record. Only for the fine style in which he blocked off the opposing guard, you never could have made such good gains. He doesnt know you hit him, for he didnt see you; and he wont know unless I

I deny that I did it, muttered Bern sullenly.

And while you deny it youre aware that I know you did. Settle your personal grudges off the football field; thats the thing to do. Dont think for a moment that Im taking sides in this quarrel between you and Stone; I know nothing of the merits of the matter, and its no affair of mine. Nevertheless, if I should see you do another wretched trick of that sort Id stop the game to pull you off the field.

Youre only the coach; the captain of the team would have something to say about that.

Wintons eyes flashed. Im the coach, and as long as I continue in that capacity Ill exert my authority to pull any man out of the game. You have a nasty temper and a revengeful disposition, my boy, and it will be for your advantage to learn to curb yourself. Would you like to see Clearport win this game?

Certainly not.

I thought not.

Clearport cant win. Weve got them beaten now.

So thats what you think. If you had seen as many football games as I have, and if you had watched this one from the side-lines, you would realize that there is not as much difference between these two teams as there seemed to be. If they ever discover our weak spots and get busy on them, theyll make us go some yet. The line is none too strong, and the loss of Stone would weaken it frightfully. Furthermore, what do you imagine the fellows would think of you if they even suspected that you had tried to knock Stone out and you might have succeeded if the half hadnt ended just as you slugged him. Im not going to say anything more; I think Ive said enough. But dont forget that I have my eyes on you.

Not a word of this conversation had reached Stones ears, yet, sitting on the blanket and looking toward Winton and Hayden, Ben somehow obtained a slight inkling of the truth. This suspicion was strengthened as Winton finished speaking and turned away; for, in spite of himself, Bern could not help glancing toward Stone, and his eyes wavered beneath the boys steady, questioning gaze.

Piper, having stretched himself on the ground near Ben, had likewise fallen to watching Hayden and his accuser.

My deduction is began Sleuth.

Two short, sharp blasts from the referees whistle told that the intermission was over and the time for the second half to begin had arrived.

CHAPTER XX.
ONE WHO WAS TRUE

In less than two minutes after the resumption of play the spectators perceived that a great change had taken place in the home team, for the Clearporters had returned to the field firmly resolved to redeem themselves, and they went into the struggle with a snap and dash that temporarily swept the visitors off their feet. Tricked by a crisscross in the second scrimmage, Oakdale permitted Oakes to get round the right end, Spotty Davis being effectively and easily blocked by Stoker, while Crane let Butters through, and the left tackle of the locals flung himself before Hayden, preventing a tackle.

The few shrill cries which had risen from the northern side of the field became a chorus of shouts, and those shouts swelled into a roar as Oakes got past Eliot and raced onward, with a few pursuers straggling out behind in a fruitless effort to overtake him.

Winton, who had lighted a cigar, chewed savagely at the weed and smote his knee with his clenched fist.

Just what I was afraid of! he muttered.

Over the goal-line went Oakes for a touchdown, cheered wildly by the delighted crowd beneath the blue banners. The ball was punted out and caught, and Oakes held it for Ramsdal to lift it with a sure and handsome kick over the crossbar.

We cant afford to let them repeat that performance, said Eliot regretfully.

But the locals, retaining the ball after the kick-off, carried it fifteen yards in a swift dash before they were stopped. Having their courage restored and being spurred on by Merwin, they lined up and lunged into the scrimmage before the visitors were wholly prepared, and a gain of nine yards through center might have developed into another sensational run had not Eliot himself nailed the man with the pigskin.

Cheer after cheer was flung across from the northern side of the field. The visitors on the southern side answered bravely, yet not wholly without a note of distress and alarm.

Got yez going, me bhoy, grinned Barney Carney into the face of Ben Stone. Oi belave its our turrun now.

He was not the only one who believed this; the whole team believed it. And when a body of contestants in any game get the idea that they are bound to succeed, it is doubly difficult to stop them. The Clearporters had talked it over; they had decided that the left wing of the visitors was stronger than the right. Stoker had told them that Spotty Davis was soft as mush. Nevertheless, they were crafty enough not to betray immediately their plan to batter at that right end, and by shifting their movements rapidly, they kept their opponents guessing. Round Davis and through the line between him and Crane they occasionally shot a runner for good gains, which carried them on again and again just when it seemed that they had been checked.

Eliot entreated Davis; he begged, and then he scolded. Spotty, feeling the weight of the battering hurled upon him, swiftly lost heart; and when in a sort of blind despair he finally tackled a runner head on, he was the one who remained stretched on the hard ground after the ball was down.

Come, Davis come, called Eliot, get up and get into the game. For goodness sake, take a brace!

Spotty groaned dolefully. I cant, he whimpered, with a choke in his voice. I cant; Im done up.

Roger turned toward Winton, who lifted his hand in a signal, to which the Oakdale captain replied with a nod. Walker, Stones seatmate at school, was promptly sent out by the coach; and the little fellow came running without hesitation, trembling with excitement, delighted because he was to have a chance in the game.





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