The HBO crew was gone.
There were no ESPN reporters or cameras or boom mikes.
Not even a Washington Post or AP reporter was there for kickoff and no post-game press conference was necessary this time. Just the coach, her staff, the kids and a couple hundred people in the stands were left to mull over a disappointing last-second loss.
The atmosphere was a far cry from the first game Natalie Randolph spent on the sidelines at Coolidge High School, about a month ago.
It was hard to get a sense of the football program, the players, and just what kind of coach Randolph would be, with such media buzz around that first day. It was distracting and beyond which, Randolph had just spent several months juggling radio and television appearances, fielding never ending media requests, all while trying to put in place a coaching staff and playbook, run practices and prepare her teaching curriculum for the new school year. Mostly, that first day, Randolph seemed tired to me.
Things are quieter now. Coolidge was 0-4 heading into the September 24th non-conference game versus Forestville and Randolph seemed relieved that it was just me this time, no mob of media swarming around her, no bright lights, no television crews, no mad dash for press credentials. "That was awful, just awful," she said walking down the hall to the locker room.
The thing I noticed the first trip to Coolidge is that the powers that be -- the coaches, the teachers, the administration -- are buoyantly optimistic. This second trip, they remained palpably so. "You know, we're gonna win tonight," smiled Principle Thelma Jarrett when I ran into her in the parking lot a few hours before kick off. She meant it; that the Colts were 0-4 entering this game was irrelevant.
It started off with a bang. The Colts opened the game by running back the opening kick off for a touchdown, a 90 yard return by Keith Dickens.
Forestville tied the game, but Coolidge put up two unanswered touchdowns after that, the first set up by a bubble screen to Sticks (Dayton Pratt) and the second a 27 yard touchdown run right up the gut by Chris Strong.
It was the first time they held such a large lead. A win was possible.
Near the end of the 3rd quarter, Coolidge led 19-6, but Forestville drove for a touchdown and 2-point conversion that made the game 19-14. Around this time, a Washington Post photographer who had been on assignment at another high school arrived at the game after getting a call to head over and get photos of coach Randolph's first victory. Meanwhile, word had also spread through the neighborhood that Coolidge was up, but by then, with no ticket takers left in place, security couldn't let the crowd in in. Most of them hung around in the parking lot and listened to the PA announcer's play by play.
Coolidge's punter, who had been stellar all night, pinned Forestville at their own 1 yard line with seven minutes left in the game. Forestville picked up a first down. Five minutes left. Then another. Then an option run picked up 23 yards. 3:30 left. Then they picked up more yards and were in Coolidge territory. 2:30 left. They drove inside the 10 yard line with 1:21.
With the ball at the 1 yard line, for the first time, Randolph looked nervous. She also looked like she was trying to will a stop from her undersized defensive line from her position on the sidelines, crouched down silently.
But it was not to be. Forestville punched in the touchdown and tacked on a 2 point conversion to go ahead 22-19. Immediately, Randolph was back up and on the headset, talking to her coaches upstairs. Nat Randolph may be a young woman, but in that moment, she looked like every other coach I've ever seen who has just absorbed a body blow, but has to look forward immediately. She just sucked it up and moved forward.
The loss was disappointing, a heart-breaker really, as last second losses always are. But while I'm still mulling my notes, trying to put things in context, find themes and dramatic arc, Randolph and the Colts have to put this one behind them because they get another shot at that first win tonight versus Anacostia, a game that is a very winnable one for them according to folks who know a lot more about DC area high school football than I do.
Good luck Colts!
You can find photos of the Coolidge-Forestville game here.