Right Guard Grant
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The half ended almost directly after that, with the score-board bearing a single numeral still, a “3” following the word “Alton.”
Leonard went back to the dressing room with the others and sat around and listened and talked and was very excited and jubilant. Slim had a beautiful swelled lip and couldn’t say much because he had to laugh every time he heard himself speak. Renneker waved a hand across the room at Leonard, but didn’t come over. He had a nice broad ribbon of plaster under his right eye. Plaster, indeed, seemed quite a popular ornament. Mr. Cade talked for a minute while Tod Tenney stood at the door watching the hands on his watch. Leonard didn’t hear what he said very well, but he cheered as loudly as any at the end. Then they piled out and started back.
Going along the bench, Leonard heard his name called and looked up the slanting stand to where a youth with a Gray-and-Gold flag draping his shoulders waved wildly. It was Johnny McGrath, Johnny very hoarse from much shouting, who was greeting him. Leonard grinned and waved back to him. Then, suddenly, the battle was on again, Kenly took the ball on the kick-off and ran it back to her twenty-eight before Billy Wells placed the runner on his head. Kenly smashed at the Alton right, stopped and formed again. Once more the teams crashed together. Kenly had made a yard. The whistle blew. Some one was still down. “Greenwood!” exclaimed Leonard’s left-hand neighbor. Then: “No, Renneker, by gum!” Jake, the trainer, was bending over the injured player. A minute passed. Jake signaled to the bench. Mr. Cade jumped up and looked down the line until his eye met Leonard’s. His head went back and Leonard disentangled himself from his blanket and obeyed the motion. On the field, Gordon Renneker, his head wobbling from side to side, was coming off between Jake and Rus Emerson.
“All right, Grant,” said the coach. “You know what to do without my telling you. Go to it!”
There were cheers from the stand behind him as he sped on, cheers for Renneker and for Grant, short, snappy cheers that made a fellow tingle. Leonard eyed Renneker anxiously as he drew near the little group. The big fellow seemed to be just about all in, he thought. He didn’t like the way his head lolled over on his shoulder, or those closed eyes of his. He hoped that – Then he stared. Renneker’s eyes had opened as Leonard had come abreast, and then one of them had closed again in a most amazing wink! Leonard asked himself if he had imagined it. He turned his head to look back. Some one had taken Emerson’s place, but Renneker’s head still lolled and wobbled. He must have imagined that wink, and yet – No, by jiminy, he hadn’t! He understood all at once. Renneker was faking! He had pretended an injury so that Leonard might have his place!
“Hey! Report to the referee, General!”
Appel’s voice brought him out of his amazed thoughts. He looked for the white sweater, found it and slipped into the line.A whistle blew again and – well, after that he was very busy. The game went on, hard, gruelling. Alton advanced and retreated, Kenly won ground and lost it. The ball hurtled through the air, feet pounded the turf, bodies rasped together, tired lungs fought for breath and aching legs for strength. The third period came to an end, the score unchanged.
Leonard was playing better than he had ever played, better than he had thought himself capable of playing. His victories were not easily won, for his opponent was a big, hard-fighting fellow, but won they were. The right side of the Alton line was still holding firmly, and it continued to hold right up to those last few minutes of the game when the Cherry-and-Black, desperate, reinforced with fresh players, ground her way inexorably to the twenty-yard-line and, with Kenly throats imploring a touchdown, thrice threw her attack at the enemy line and was thrice repulsed almost under the shadow of the Alton goal.
The end was close then, the time-keeper had his eyes on his watch more often than on the game and all hope of a touchdown by rushing tactics was abandoned by the home team. Either a pass over the line or a field-goal must serve. Thus far Kenly’s forward-passes had almost invariably failed, and this fact doubtless brought the decision to try for a tied score rather than a victory. At all events, Kenly placed her drop-kicker back, arranged her defenses and set the stage for the final act. The kicker was on the twenty-seven yards, no great distance now that the breeze had died away. The signal came, the ball shot back, the lines met.
Then it was that Leonard had his great moment. He went through, the first of his line to start when the ball was passed, the only one to penetrate that desperate wall in front of the kicker. Quite alone he charged, almost in the path of the ball. An enemy was met and evaded with a quick swing to the left. Hands clutched him, but too late. He was off his feet now, arms upstretched, leaping high in the air. Something swam toward him against the sunset light, brown and big, turning lazily in its flight. An arm swept into its path. Leonard was down in a writhing mass, had found his feet, was tossed aside. The battle was up the field now, back near the thirty-five-yard line. Leonard scrambled breathlessly up and staggered in the wake of the swarming players. A whistle blew and a voice, the referee’s, was shouting:
“Alton’s ball! First down!”
They were back in the hotel, the cheering and the tumult left behind for the while. The dressing room was crowded, full of confusion and excitement. Every one was talking, laughing, shouting at once. A wonderful sense of complete happiness held Leonard as he tugged at his laces. Just then it seemed as though nothing could ever possibly happen that would matter one bit. They had beaten Kenly Hall! And he had helped! Fellows were bumping into him, fairly walking over him, but he didn’t mind. He didn’t mind even when some one placed a big hand at the back of his head and bore down until it hurt. He looked up when he could, though. It was Gordon Renneker. Leonard sought for words, beautiful, big, round, insulting words, but the best he could do was only:
“You – you blamed old faker!”
Renneker rumpled Leonard’s damp hair rudely, grinning down.
“Fifty-fifty,” he said.
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