Here it is, everyone! The moment that you’ve all been waiting for! It’s the next installment of the story that Matticus and I are writing. I hope you’re all enjoying it so far!
Plex felt a little better when he saw his big running back pound it into the end zone. He ran back to the sideline and drank from a bucket by the bench. The crowd erupted when his kicker made the extra point, giving his team a one point lead with a score of seven to six. After congratulating his running back, who made an excellent play, he praised his offensive line who kept the defenders at bay during the run.
As much as he wanted to watch the game while the defense was on the field, Plex focused on talking amongst his offensive teammates and coaches. His attention needed to be on perfecting their gameplan, not worrying about what the defense was doing on the field. Whenever the crowd erupted, he wondered whether they were cheering for a good offensive or defensive play. It didn’t matter, though. His job was to try to score every time he touched the ball.
Then he remembered the dragon’s proclamation.
If he scored on every possession, and the other team didn’t, he’d be sentencing his sister to death. He refused to be responsible for that. He would certainly try to win the game, but he had to keep the score close. The margin of victory, if the game ended now, would be one point. That would be optimal. Plex vowed to keep that the margin for the rest of the game. All he would do from now on was match the other team score for score. It was the best way to ensure Gilania’s safety.
His discussion with his offensive teammates was interrupted when he heard Coach Sprout calling his name. As he made his way over to the coach’s position, he looked up at the board erected to keep track of the score. Gilania’s team now had a two point lead. That meant that they had kicked a field goal. Considering the problems their kicker had already gone through during the game, that was surprising. It also meant that he had to do whatever he could to ensure that his team scored, but only a field goal, on this drive.
The first play that Coach Sprout called was another running play. This time, the defense was able to take the minotaur down after a six yard gain. With the play starting at their own thirty-one yard line, Plex dropped back to pass. Looking to his left, he saw his primary receiver covered. Across the middle, his tight end was similarly covered. His eyes moved to the right, where he saw his other receiver, Baclem the troll, had a step on the defender.
Plex let go of the ball just as a goblin defender hit the back of his knee. There was nothing he could do to stop his fall. He wanted more than anything to see how his pass had worked out, but he couldn’t see as he was falling to the turf. As he hit the ground, the sound of a roaring crowd assaulted his ears. The crowd wouldn’t have reacted like that, he knew, unless it was a touchdown or an interception. He quickly got to his feet to see which one it was.
Baclem was dancing in the end zone. Somehow the troll had gotten past all the defenders to score, putting them up thirteen to nine, with the extra point attempt still left to go.
As the ball sailed through the uprights, giving his team a five point lead, Plex’s heart dropped into his stomach. A quick glance towards the large hourglass, which marked the time left in each of the four quarters of the game, showed the first quarter was nearly over and that did nothing to settle his emotions. While there was still a lot of game to be played, time was not going to be his friend in this test of skills and mental strength.
The only thing he could do was go back to talking with his teammates. He needed to continue to build those relationships. He would need their help if he was going to be successful in keeping the score close. Whether they became aware of what he was doing or not, he would need to understand, understand their movements, understand their likely choices.
While he chatted, his team kicked off and the other team managed to break through the first set of players before being taken down near the fifty yard line. They would be well positioned for a field goal, at least, if they could move the ball forward a little bit. That made Plex happy. That would help eat into the lead. And, if they scored a touchdown, then Plex would do his best to get his own team into field goal range.
The opposing team ran two running plays back to back, advancing for one yard and then six yards, leaving them only three yards short of a first down, before the whistle blew for the end of the first quarter. The teams shuffled around and, after a short pause, while the ball was placed in the right spot, the whistle blew again and the game started back up.
They ran a third running play, which surprised Plex. They only needed three yards but they hadn’t shown much success with the run except for the opening kick-off where they ran back for a touchdown. Their runner was stopped after only a yard gained and Plex was surprised for the second time in quick succession when they didn’t send on their kicking team.
Plex wanted to get back to talking to his teammates but he couldn’t take his eyes off the action. The other team was making a mistake and the hush in the crowd made it seem like even they knew it was a mistake. The ball was snapped and the quarterback was immediately tackled by a rushing gnome. Plex hadn’t even seen Coach Sprout make that formation change, but the diminutive rusher slipped through the defense and wrapped up the quarterbacks legs, giving them a loss of four yards.
Half the crowd cheered. Half the crowd booed. Plex wasn’t sure why they were doing either, honestly. Maybe they were cheering for the gnome? Maybe they were booing the gnome? It didn’t really matter. He had a job to do.
Pulling on his helmet, he trotted onto the field with the rest of his offensive line and then, once huddled, looked to the sideline to see what play Coach Sprout wanted them to run. It was a running play. That was good because it was less likely they would pick up a ton of yards but once the ball left his hands he would no longer be in control of what happened with the play. He relayed the play to his teammates and they broke to get into position.
Plex barked out the cadence. His center hiked him the ball, he caught it, and handed it to the minotaur. As he watched the running back run for a short gain, his mind wandered back to how he was going to handle the rest of the game. It would be easy to keep the score close. That wasn’t the problem. No, the problem was that anything he did in this game to keep the score close could have serious consequences in their next games.
If he played badly, it would cause his team to lose faith in him, which could affect their play in the future. He could also twist it just a bit and make it look like some of his teammates were playing badly. A fumbled handoff to the running back, or a pass that is close enough for his receiver to touch, but not catch easily. If he did that, it would have a negative effect on his teammates’ confidence, which would also affect their play in the future.
The safest play would be to do a combination of both. As long as they won, he didn’t think that a few bad plays here and there would cause too much of a problem. Once the game was over, he’d blame it on the time constraints causing a lack of chemistry. It was a plausible excuse, one that they would latch onto. All he had to worry about now was pulling it off.
Coach Sprout called the next play, another run. Plex again took the snap and held the ball out for the running back to grab. Just before the minotaur touched it, Plex let go of the ball. It hit the outside of his running back’s hand and bounced forward towards the line of scrimmage. A mad scramble ensued after shouts of, “Fumble!” filled the air around him. The Honor Guard referees picked their way through the pile and found the person who picked up the ball.
A large ogre defensive lineman emerged from the crowd with the ball in his hands. Plex wanted to smile at his plan’s success, but forced it down. Instead he shot his running back an accusatory look. The minotaur, Glavven, was clearly confused. He had no idea how he had muffed the exchange. Plex softened his expression as they walked to the sideline. “Don’t worry,” he said to Glavven. “It’s just one play. We’ll get it back and you’ll ram it down their throats again.”
Glavven nodded resolutely and the two of them walked over to Coach Sprout. Plex was expecting to be yelled at, but Sprout just gave them words of encouragement and ordered them to work on their exchanges while the defense was out on the field. The two of them did as instructed, stopping only when the crowd erupted in cheers. Looking over, they saw that the other team had scored another touchdown, this time with a pass. After the extra point made the score sixteen to fourteen in favor of Gilania’s team, Glavven ran out onto the field to catch the kickoff.
The minotaur returned it to their thirty-five yard line and Plex ran out onto the field. Sprout called a pass play, knowing they had to hurry if they wanted to score before halftime. Plex’s plan was looking good. If he drove them down to kick a field goal, they’d be back up by one point again. All he had to do was drive them into field goal range before stalling the drive out.
His elven receiver broke across the field right after he received the hiked ball. Plex let it fly. As soon as the ball left his hand, his receiver stumbled and fell. Everything went quiet for the briefest moment as he watched his pass, which would have been perfect, fly right into his sister’s waiting hands. He broke free from his stupor and ran to tackle her, but she had picked up a line of blockers. Before he knew it, he had been knocked onto his backside and Gilania was in the endzone.