Beyond the reach of the California Road area and the Middlebury community, Memorial’s football game tonight at Northridge means little.
No trophy on the line.
No bitter rivalry renewed.
No bragging rights at stake.
It’s just two winless high school football teams looking for a Friday night to finally feel good about something — a game where one team can walk off the field with heads held high, even for a few moments.
In the world of Crimson Chargers and Raiders, this game means everything — or at least it should.
Memorial has scored just 43 points this season.
Northridge has lost 19 straight games and it’s last on-field victory was exactly two years ago when the Raiders beat the Chargers 28-27 in overtime. Forget that 1-7 record the Raiders have in the standings — that’s a forfeit awarded courtesy of South Bend Adams.
Frustrations are obvious, though the struggles for both clubs haven’t buried spirits completely.
“We’ve played so hard and the attitude’s been so positive even with the lack of success,’’ said Bill Roggeman, Memorial’s first-year head coach. “They’ve hung in there. They’re hanging in there, still listening, still working hard.”
The task at hand is even tougher at Northridge, which limped through an 0-10 mark last year, too.
“This group has been good. You know, there’s always doubt. That’s human. But this group has bought into what we’re doing,’’ said Raiders head coach Jon Kirkton. “As far as where our group is, they still love football.’’
They still love football.
No one is laying down at Northridge, but Kirkton anguishes over his program’s perception within the school and community.
The naysayers are out again this fall and grumbling continues. Kirkton uses any negativity as a motivator to his players and to himself.
“There’s some frustrating things as far as the way we’re perceived. Our kids are just like any other kids ... they work hard at it,” Kirkton said. “We’ve had great support by the community, but there’s always going to be those people who say your program is no good. It’s a motivator and at the same time, it wears on you.
“It’s not easy when you work hard at something. Yes, we‘ve struggled, but we’re doing the best we can on a daily basis.”
To Roggeman, it’s the pressure of timing — not the opponent — which raises the stakes.
The one-and-done nature of the tournament will grip all teams next Friday.
“There’s certainly a little sense of urgency, but not because of Northridge and the way the records are ... this is the time of the season where if you don’t have a sense of urgency, that means you’re in a pack-it-in mode,’’ Roggeman said. “Every week is a new week. We strive to be 1-and-0. Whether we’re 0-and-8 or 8-and-0, we take the week the same way.
“The kids have handled this classy and maturely.”
Class and maturity. A lot can be said for that as far as athletes, coaches and fans are concerned.
Not every team can fill trophy cases like Jimtown and Penn do.
Not every school gets to look eye-to-eye with an opponent a battle for a title like Concord and Warsaw get to do tonight.
No one relishes adversity, but challenges to face and hurdles to leap are inevitable on and off the field.
There’s no shame in losing. There is, however, shame in not putting forth your best effort regardless of frustrations.
My hope is that the Chargers and Raiders put their best on the field regardless how good that best is in reality.
Bill Beck can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org