Legendary Game Series
Nov. 2, 2001: Reitz at Castle, Class 5A Sectional 8 Championship
by Mike Whicker
The Panthers will finish the season .500; perhaps a game over .500 if they can avoid injuries and the breaks fall their way.
That’s what the experts said.
Don’t feel sorry for the Panthers, they won eight games when most had predicted a rebuilding season under a new coach. The opening playoff game against Castle would be Reitz’s last game but they could be proud of their season.
That’s what they said.
So when the dust of eleven games had settled and the upstart Panthers miraculously found themselves still alive and headed into the sectional championship game against Castle, the outcome was predetermined.
It was a game impossible for the Panthers to win.
True, the Castle Knights were bigger and faster at almost every position. The laws of physics could not be denied. Fearsome Castle was ranked as high as third in the state in many polls and deservingly so; they were an impressive group. The Reitz Panthers were unranked.
Castle had defeated the Panthers earlier in the season by seventeen points and just a week ago the Knights routed a North squad that had dealt the Panthers their worst loss of the season. All that plus the championship game would be played on the Knights’ home turf.
Hold that last thought.
Thursday, November 1
Thursday’s pregame practice, the last practice of the week, had just concluded. On the fifty-yard-line in Reitz Bowl, the Reitz players huddled around Don Waterman, the school’s revered football equipment manager, who was finishing his traditional Thursday night pep talk. Twenty yards away, the Panthers’ line coach, Tim Shipp, waited patiently for Waterman to finish. When the players broke and headed toward the fieldhouse, Coach Shipp called them over.
“Men”, Shipp began, “you all know about the great tradition of football here in this Bowl. This tradition was built by the great players and coaches of the past. The ground you’re kneeling on has been made sacred by the blood of noble young men who have come before you. Some of these players are not much older than you are now; some are old men; some are no longer with us. But their spirits are here. The spirits of those who, like you, made the sacrifices it takes to wear that Reitz helmet.
“Some people don’t believe you have a shot at winning tomorrow night’s game against Castle but the coaching staff believes in you,” Shipp continued. “We have to go to their place which is a hostile place to play as you know. So here’s what I want you to do, on one condition. I want you to take one of these plastic bags and walk to a spot on this field where you have made a great play, or, for you younger guys, a spot where you hope to someday make a great play. Take a little of the turf from that spot and put it in the bag. But here’s the condition: I only want you to do this if you truly BELIEVE we can beat Castle tomorrow night. We’ll take these bags of our turf with us tomorrow and sprinkle the Bowl turf on to the Castle field. Then tomorrow night, even though we might be at Castle High School, we’ll be playing on our turf.”
There were no smiles. No chuckles. No one thought the idea silly. With somber faces and in dead silence every player took a small bag from the coach and walked to a different part of the field to gather his piece of the hallowed turf.
The underdogs believed.
Friday, November 2
Before the game, the sprinkling of the turf took place as planned while the Castle players looked on bemused. Daniel Woods, a sophomore who just three weeks earlier had been assigned the job of kicking extra points and field goals for the Panthers, sprinkled his turf on the ten-yard line near the south goal of the Castle field. The other Reitz players also emptied their bags of Reitz Bowl turf on the Knights’ field.
It turned into a notably savage affair, this game with the Knights. Strong young men from both teams would be helped from the field. Three of Castle’s huge defensive linemen would leave the game, victims of a relentless pounding from a smaller but fierce Panther offensive line.
Reitz’s Aaron Gabe, who had fought back from a shoulder injury early in the season had the same shoulder pop out of joint. Most who suffered an injury like his would have gone to the hospital on a stretcher, but Gabe insisted he be taped up and he returned to the game. But Gabe was not the only tough guy in a silver helmet.
Nick Hart, the Panthers’ quarterback, played the game while fighting off a concussion received in the Harrison game a week earlier. There were others. Reitz’s head coach, John Hart, commented on his team’s toughness.
“I have never been around a tougher group of kids then this bunch,” Hart said. “Some of the stuff they play with is almost unbelievable. In a game earlier in the year, our center, Brian Gaiser, received a bad cut on his hand. With the new ‘blood rule’ a player has to leave the game until he is cleaned up. Brian didn’t want to come out so he packed mud in the cut so the officials wouldn’t see it. Zach Whicker received a deep gash in his forehead one day in practice. Blood was all over the place. That night at home Zach super glued the gash shut so he wouldn’t have to get stitches and possibly miss practice. Kenneth Tidwell has played half the season with a broken hand. Ryan Lacey played two or three games on a badly sprained ankle that most people couldn’t walk on without crutches. Ryan Sexton has had stitches but never missed a beat. The list goes on and on. These are guys you don’t want to make mad in a dark alley.”
It was a jubilant place…the Castle side of the field, that is. The players on the Castle sideline and their supporters in the stands hugged and slapped backs. After being behind for the entire game the Knights had just scored to take a 14-13 lead, the one point difference being a badly missed extra point kick by Reitz’s Daniel Woods after the Panthers’ second touchdown. Only two minutes remained on the clock. Things looked bleak for the Panthers.
On the Reitz side of the field things were much different. The fans in the stands were in silent shock. Their boys, the huge underdogs, had fought and scrapped and somehow outplayed the talented Knights and led on the scoreboard until just a few seconds ago. On the sideline, tears flowed from the tough guys. Todd Mattingly, who had played his heart out, seemingly had nothing more to give and wept openly. Zach Whicker, a lineman who had fought stomach flu all week and had not eaten in two days, had earlier collapsed on the sideline from dehydration but returned to play the entire game. He too stood weeping. But the Boys from the Hill had not quit all season. They would not quit now.
Castle lined up to kick off.
The ‘pooch kick’ was a kickoff that Castle had used at various times during the season. It was a short, high kick aimed at the opponent’s sideline and designed to limit returns. So far this season the pooch kick had worked well for Castle. But John Hart and his coaches had prepared their boys well. The Panthers had worked on returning the pooch kick every day that week in practice. The coaches knew where the pooch kick would come down and they had just the right guy there waiting for it.
Todd Mattingly gathered in the ball on the Reitz 31-yard line, at the spot where Zach Whicker had sprinkled his bag of turf from Reitz Bowl. After receiving several key blocks from teammates, Mattingly somehow found enough left within himself to streak up the left sideline and break into the clear. The Panther running back made it all the way to the two-yard line where he was bumped out of bounds as he dove for the end zone. The Panthers were only two yards from pulling off the season’s biggest upset.
Two very long yards.
Castle High School was not ranked among the top teams in the state for no reason. The Knights dug in and denied the Panthers their end zone for three plays.
The clock showed four seconds left in the game. The Panthers were behind by one point…the extra point that Daniel Woods had earlier missed at the other end of the field. This field goal would be kicked at the south end of the Castle field. The very nervous sophomore placed his kicking block down over the exact spot he had earlier sprinkled the turf from Reitz Bowl.
As Woods lined up to kick, a hush fell over the Reitz faithful in the stands. Reitz players on the sideline knelt and held hands. The coaches fretted. Not only was a sophomore kicking the ball, a sophomore would be doing the snapping. The Knights took their places, determined to block the kick.
Chris Elliott snapped the football perfectly and it was placed on the tee by the sure-handed senior, Jared Eckert. The Knights charged forward but the Reitz wall held. Woods’ foot met the ball and his kick sailed high and true. Final score: Reitz 16, Castle 14. The underdog Reitz Panthers, who were suppose to win five games in 2001, six if their luck held, were Sectional Champions.
David had defeated Goliath.
Despite objections from the Castle PA announcer, the Reitz fans flooded onto the field. Even Mrs. Settle, the Reitz principal, was seen hugging one of the coaches on the field.
The game will go down in history as one of the biggest upsets in Reitz history and one of the legendary games of Reitz lore, strengthening still the Reitz football tradition.
It was done with a bunch of tough guys and a new head coach who returned to the players the joy of the game. It was done with undersized but scrappy players like Matt Chipps and Jared Eckert, members of a defense that held the Knights to fourteen points when that season they had averaged thirty-five points a game.
It will forever be known as “The Night They Moved the Bowl.”
The 2001 Boys from the Hill took a little piece of home with them to Paradise and played their way into Reitz football immortality.
The boys believed they could win, Coach Shipp.