Soldiers in Iraq Hear Sons Win State Football Championship
December 11, 2007
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (Army News Service, Dec. 10, 2007) - Twelve Soldiers in Iraq were not able to see their sons win the Kentucky Class 2A state football championship Saturday as the Fort Campbell High School Falcons defeated highly-favored Newport Central Catholic 21-7.
Even though they have not been able to see their sons play football this season, the Soldiers have been able to listen to the games via the Internet at www.oldies1480.com, a local radio station out of nearby Cadiz, Ky. These Soldiers and many others were gathered Saturday to listen to the state championship game online.
"This victory means so much to so many, and we are very excited over here about Fort Campbell being state champions," said Lt. Col. Chris Croft, father of Falcons quarterback C.J. Croft, by telephone from Iraq immediately following the game. "We had a packed house listening to the game, and it was absolutely fantastic.
"Obviously, I'm very proud of C. J., and all that he has accomplished, but there is also a lot of pride among all Fort Campbell Soldiers for this football program. This team represents our community extremely well every time they take the field, and this is just a great way to wrap up a wonderful season, and we just want to say 'way to go Falcons!'"
The championship game, played in the vast setting of Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville, Ky., was attended by about 1,000 enthusiastic Falcon fans, and the outcome brought tears and smiles to everyone in attendance.
"We're all very emotional right now because winning this state championship means so much to our kids and our community," said Falcons head coach Shawn Berner after the game. "Our guys played with so much heart and emotion today because they wanted to make their dads and their school proud, and they fully accomplished that. I don't think I've ever seen a happier bunch in my life."
The camaraderie and spirit exhibited by the Fort Campbell players and coaches developed through the season, and eventually spread throughout the entire high school, the post and surrounding communities.
"The way this team went about achieving this goal all year was amazing," said David Witte, Fort Campbell High School principal. "There was never really a star in this group -- they all worked together as a team, which is a theme we try to push throughout the entire school. This team sort of set the example for all of us to follow.
"We had a very emotional send-off Friday when the team left for Louisville. The whole school and half the post turned out to wish them well. When the buses pulled out, there was not a dry eye to be found."
This faith and support was very important to the Falcons when they took the field Saturday as 21-point underdogs to the Thoroughbreds.
"We started the season 0-2, and nobody really gave us a chance," said Falcon senior defensive back Olan Andrews. "We've had so much support from everyone at Fort Campbell all year, and we believed in ourselves and our coaches, and now we've shown everyone what we can do."
Many people came to the huge stadium in Louisville expecting Newport Central Catholic to take a big lead on Fort Campbell early in the game. Instead, the first quarter turned into a defensive battle with neither team being able to score.
"We knew they were going to try to run the ball, control the clock and keep our offense off the field," said Falcon senior linebacker Sean Tighe. "But on defense, we just stopped them, and stopped them early, and I think that really surprised them."
It was not until midway through the second quarter that the scoreboard lit up with any digits other than zero, and to the surprise of many, Fort Campbell scored first.
Sophomore running back Troy Turner, who quietly rushed for 109 yards on 17 carries, helped lead the Falcons downfield on their first drive of the second period to get into scoring position.
With 7:30 showing on the clock, Falcons' sophomore wide receiver Chris Allen made a diving catch in the back of the end zone to haul in a 10-yard pass from Croft. Senior kicker Allan R. Johnson then made good on the point after kick to give Fort Campbell a 7-0 lead.
Newport Central Catholic answered the Falcons challenge with only 35 seconds left in the first half when Thoroughbred quarterback Rob Kues hit wide receiver Matt Ritter with a 26-yard pass for the touchdown. The Thoroughbreds point after kick was good, and the two teams headed to the locker room at the half with the score knotted at 7-7.
"Our defense has really stepped it up today, and we're going to continue that in the second half," said Falcon junior linebacker Josh Carter. "We just have to execute our game plan and do what we do best, and we'll be fine."
The Fort Campbell defense did indeed hold strong in the third quarter, but Newport Central Catholic's did also, and when the period ended the score remained 7-7.
With 11:25 showing on the clock Fort Campbell made its second strike of the game when C.J. Croft hit senior wide receiver Lorenzo Hines with a 7-yard pass for the touchdown. The extra point kick was good, and the Falcons led 14-7.
Newport Central Catholic, however, was not about to roll over, and the Thoroughbreds stormed back for a first-and-goal opportunity on the Falcons 6-yard line at the 6:20 mark.
Fort Campbell's dominating defense then rose to the challenge, making a memorable goal line stand.
Aided by three Thoroughbred false-start penalties, the Falcons defensive line prevented Newport Central Catholic from scoring on six consecutive attempts, the closest coming from inside the 1-yard line.
The Thoroughbreds scoring threat vanished on their seventh attempt when Ritter caught a pass on the 5-yard line and was immediately hit by Falcon junior defensive back Raquan Durrante, forcing a fumble which was recovered by Falcon senior linebacker Josh McWherter.
McWherter knew the fumble recovery was crucial, and he also knew his dad, Lt. Col. Fred Wintrich, serving in Iraq, was listening online.
"I just grabbed the ball and held on to it as tight as I could," McWherter said. "I knew my dad was going to listen to the game, and I wanted him to know I was doing all I could to help us win the game. I hope they're proud of us over there and know we were playing for them."
A few plays later, Falcon senior running back Dexter Durrante Jr. blasted through the Thoroughbreds defense up the left sideline on a 67-yard touchdown run, giving Fort Campbell a commanding 21-7 lead with 2:54 left in the game.
On the final set of downs, Newport Central Catholic advanced the ball to the Fort Campbell 32-yard line at the 2:17 mark. Central Catholic launched a long pass toward the end zone which was intercepted by Raquan Durrante to end any hope the Thoroughbreds had of another state championship.
"I read the quarterback's eyes, and I saw the ball coming," Durrante said. "I knew I had to make the play, and I just waited for it to come down."
When the final buzzer sounded to end the game, Fort Campbell had defeated a tough Newport Central Catholic team 21-7 to earn the coveted state championship rings and trophy.
"This win shows everybody what hard work and good kids can do," Coach Berner said. "I just can't describe how proud I am of this group of guys right now. This is just an awesome feeling."
During the post game ceremony, a teary-eyed Dexter Durrante Jr. was awarded the game's Most Valuable Player trophy.
Durrante, whose father 1st Sgt. Dexter Durrante Sr. was blinded in a training accident shortly before football season started, had every reason to be emotional. His team had just won a state championship, and his dad, who is still recovering from his injuries, was able to make it to the game.
"This is all so overwhelming," Dexter Jr. said. "The MVP trophy is nice, but I'm more excited about winning the state championship. This is even more special because my brother and I both had good games today, and our dad was here to share this with us, and that really means everything. This is just a great feeling for all of us right now."
(Patti Marquess writes for the Fort Campbell Courier newspaper)