There was a football game played at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Friday night.
And when it was over, the homestanding Eagles sent their fans home happy as they defeated South Broward 23-6.
But it was about so much more than football. A school and community that has been through an emotional ringer over the last seven months to put it mildly in the wake of the tragic shootings that claimed 17 lives last Feb. 14 including assistant coach Aaron Feis and athletic director Chris Hixon.
It was about a school and community’s effort to continue the healing process and trudge on with their lives while never forgetting the lives lost.
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And in case anyone didn’t notice. The final margin of victory? 17.
“Isn’t that something,” said Douglas head coach Willis “Peanut” May when it was brought up with reporters following the game. “And I’ll tell you something else about tonight and last week. Before each game, I found a penny that was heads up. Aaron always would look for one on gameday because he said it would bring us luck. I swear I wonder if he had something to do with that today.”
Plenty was done to honor Feis, Hixon and the other 15 victims.
It might be early for homecoming but it was homecoming night for the school, which closed off the street in front of the school for a parade.
The Miami Dolphins were represented as Joe Rose and Kim Bokamper were on hand to do their Facebook Live Podcast along with Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills who tossed the coin at midfield prior to kickoff.
Each player touched a poster on the fence at the field’s entrance that read in descending order “Fearless, Emotion, Intensity, Sacrifice” for FEIS.
Eagles players unveiled their new helmets, each with the number “17” on the side of the helmet in honor of the victims and “73” on the back, Feis’ number when he played for the program 15 years ago.
And it was only appropriate that South Broward was the team they hosted as it was the school Hixon was previously the AD at and a school where his widow Debbie still works at as the school’s Magnet Coordinator.
“It’s been quite a journey to get to this point and we’re just excited to finally be taking the field tonight,” said May before the game. “Just to come out here for two or three hours and enjoy the camaraderie that is taking place. It’s all part of a process. It’s been hard but with everybody sticking together and motivating one another, it’s gotten better little by little and tonight was another big step in that process. While we’re all trying to move on, we will never forget the victims. That’s something you never get over and that’s the new norm around here and we’ve accepted that.”
Eventually there was football to be played and the inspired Eagles played tough defense in the first half as Roman Parodie picked off a South Broward pass in the end zone thwarting one drive and Christian Higgins recovered a fumble off a quarterback sack to end another.
Meanwhile, after struggling to get untracked on their first two series, the Eagles offense got things cranked on its third possession driving 74 yards in nine plays, finding paydirt when running back Brian Smith took a draw play and raced untouched 25 yards for a score.
Douglas (2-0) even got fancy on the point after, not only going for two, but executing a perfect flanker reverse, Vashane Vale tossing a pass to a wide open Ryan Kavanaugh, the quarterback, for the two points.
Douglas took an 11-0 lead to the locker room at halftime when placekicker Mason Hall drilled a 27-yard field goal with 1:44 left, capping off a 12-play, 52-yard drive.
A 21 yard touchdown run by Aramis Warford midway through the third following a by a 1-yard QB sneak by Kavanaugh late in the third made it 23-0 and ended the issue.
“Just an amazing feeling,” said Higgins who recovered a second fumble in the second half to set up the final touchdown. “We came out here ready to play with a lot of emotion tonight and while we wanted to come out and play hard for the 17, we wanted it for ourselves too because we’ve been through a lot.”
“This means so much for us to be able to come out here and get this done tonight,” said Kavanaugh who completed 7-of-13 passes for 88 yards and the touchdown. “There is a really tight bond with this team and it just keeps getting tighter every week.”
South Broward (0-3), avoided the shutout when running back Travis Dixon, who led all rushers on the evening with 164 yards on 21 carries, scored from three yards out early in the fourth. Appropriately, the extra point was missed keeping the margin at 17.
Said May, “I’m just so darn proud of these kids for coming out here and doing what they’ve been doing. We’ve got two now and we want to keep it going from here.”
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