Bambi shakes her head. “He’d never do that.”
Neil calls out that the Uber has arrived.
“Come on, forget that. Let’s get to the stadium,” Bambi says, and I follow them outside. We laugh and chat about the game, but inside, a kernel of doubt drops and swirls. The Dillon I know does get hung up on superstition and traditions, but he’s not the kind of guy who’d use me for his team. He’s not the one-dimensional, shallow person I assumed he was. I push the idea out of my head and think of him in the elevator, his face devastated that his father wasn’t coming.19Boos rain down as we run off the field for halftime. Nothing makes a crowd angrier than a visiting team showing up and snagging a twenty-one-to-nothing lead in the first half.
“Who dat kicking LSU’s ass!” Troy shouts.
“LSU who? Dillon is the man!” Sawyer replies. “It’s because you won your challenge,” he says to me under his breath, and I send him a sharp look. When I came in last night, he took one look at me and figured out where I’d been. Serena is not about the challenge.
Coach Alvarez rolls in, his eyes roving over each of us like an eagle. “Simmer down! We’ve got a second half to play, and you can bet the other locker room is working their ass off to figure out how to flip the script.” He puffs out his barrel chest. “Good half.”
“McQueen, excellent job. Keep chipping away at the small stuff, but don’t get sloppy.”
“Break into your groups, listen to your coaches, and keep the fight on their side of the field, because who are we?” He puts a hand to his ear.
“WAYLON! TIGERS!” More whoops as Sawyer drops to the floor and does a body roll, pads and all.
We head off to team breakouts, and I suck down a Gatorade and sit next to Sinclair. He’s quiet as Coach Allen breaks down our plays, my passes, the coverage we can expect for the second half. He finishes with some changes he wants to try, and I study the plays.
The noise from the LSU fans hits us like a wave in the ocean as we line up for the second half. My nerves are stretched as we run the ball on first and second down, picking up eight yards. All we need is two more for a first down.
Moving fast, I turn to fake a handoff. The defensive end on the right side has beat Sawyer, so I aim downfield for the tight end and send a perfect pass.
The LSU safety comes out of nowhere and snatches the ball then steps out of bounds. Fuck! It’s my first interception of the season.
Our defense takes the field, and one of them slaps me on the ass. “Chin up, McQueen.”
My shoulders roll as I walk off the field and wait for Coach.
“What the hell, McQueen? Why are you forcing the ball downfield? We want first downs, not touchdowns. Play my game, not yours.”
Alright, alright. “Yes, sir.”
The crowd erupts as LSU scores on our defense on a trick play.
Our offense takes a nosedive. Not one Waylon player can catch my passes, and running the ball is getting us nowhere. It’s third and long when I call a short, safe pass. The ball snaps and the LSU defenders blitz me. A hand grabs my jersey from behind and yanks me down. I double over backward and slam into the ground.
“I’ll be here all day. All day!” the LSU player yells in my face.
“You alright? You landed on your leg,” Sawyer says as we approach the sideline.
He’s right, and my knee hurts with each step I take, but a player knows the difference between being injured and hurt. I’m fine.
Play by play, I pace the sidelines as our defense starts to struggle. Tension fills the stadium as LSU marches down the field. We grow tight-lipped on the bench, and shoulders sag as I try to rouse them, popping helmets and slapping backs.
LSU scores another touchdown.
Sawyer grimaces. “Our turn, man. Let’s do this.”
I lead the offense to the line and LSU shifts, switching and adjusting fast. I inhale a deep breath, easing it out through my mouth guard.
The right defensive end from LSU beats my lineman and, shoves him into my face. Rolling out behind him, I see clear grass and run for the first down, but a hit from behind makes me stumble. Spinning out of the tackle, I grunt as I’m hit by a linebacker from the opposite side and the ball slips out of my hand. It floats in the air for what seems like eternity before another LSU player catches it at a full run.
A defender crashes on top of me. Then another. The crowd roars and I close my eyes. Touchdown. I’ve fumbled the ball and they’ve scored to tie the game.