FORNEY -- This wasn't for a district title, or even a playoff berth. Some folks even said the game meant nothing, but for a game deemed meaningless, Corsicana's 21-14 victory over Forney Friday night near the end of a season that some believed would never take place had more meaning than words can define.
For Hal Wasson's Tigers it didn't just feel good. It felt normal. It felt right. It felt like it belonged -- yes, belonged -- in a season in which nothing seemed to fit and little made sense.
Wasson made sense of it.
How does it feel to win this one, coach?
"Faaaaan-tastic," said Wasson moments after his Tigers put the game away. "It's been hard. It's been tough. I'm really proud of our kids, and I'm most proud of our kids because they played hard. That's what I've admired about this team all year. They play hard."
No, it was anything but meaningless. The 21-14 victory was something that these Tigers can believe in, something they can take with them into next year and beyond -- something solid and nostalgic, something to build on and something to help put this upside down year back on its feet.
This is a once in a generation win -- literally, because neither Forney nor Corsicana had ever played the same team twice in the regular season. Never. And that takes into account Corsicana's long and storied history, a history built on success and tradition for a program where the door to the playoffs almost always is open and winning comes like cooler weather every autumn.
But nothing is normal in the Year of COVID-19, not even Friday night lights, so in the midst of the pandemic when one injury after another came along and changed the normal course of events in a 2020 year that has become a cliche' for the bizarre, the Tigers simply just kept going.
They never made excuses or pointed fingers or stopped pushing, and even when the door to the playoffs was locked, they just pushed harder, kept changing lineups like light bulbs and moved ahead.
They came into the ninth game of the season locked out, knowing they couldn't be part of the postseason, but instead of complaining Wasson and his Tigers made up their minds that their last two games wouldn't be meaningless (like everyone said) and that they would finish strong. As Wasson said: "These games mean something to us."
After playing all year without either of his returning tailbacks, who had remarkable seasons a year ago as sophomores, and trying to score with his quarterback injured and on the bench for most of the season, Wasson was still pumping pride into his kids.
Everyone was thrilled to see Solomon James. who hadn't started a game at QB since Oct. 9 when he was injured in Whitehouse, start (and finish) Friday night.
But being at full strength has never been an option in 2020.
The two new players who had stepped in and carried the offense after last year's entire backfield was wiped out with injuries -- running back Bishop Harris and QB Jayvon Thomas -- didn't start Friday because now they're injured, too.
Harris rushed for 260 yards last month when the Tigers beat Forney 20-10. Thomas, who has filled in at tailback and quarterback and led the team in rushing of late, was injured last week early in the game.
Neither stepped on the playing field Friday as Wasson juggled one more lineup before calling Ripley's one more time.
Ironically, the Tigers were less predictable because of those current injuries. Without James and with Thomas, a sophomore defensive back, starting at quarterback, the Tigers almost never threw the ball over the past six weeks. Instead it was a run, run, run offense. That changed the minute James took the team to the air Friday.
He completed 21-of-35 passes for 274 yards, and three touchdowns, showing streaks of brilliance throughout the game, including leading a 92-yard, 11-play drive that seemed impossible over the past month. James completed 8-of-9 passes in a span of two minutes and 32 seconds, beating the clock and Forney.
That drive, which included an unforgettable 12-yard clutch reception by Jabril Douglas, who turned a third-and-eight at the Tiger 10 into a first down to keep the drive alive, ended when George Foster, who had five receptions for 55 yards, grabbing a 23-yard TD pass with 26 seconds left in the second quarter to complete the Tigers' best first half of the season.
Not only did they lead 14-0 at halftime, but the Tiger defense had devoured Forney, making 10 plays, including four sacks, for either no gain or negative yardage. And James had thrown a pair of beauties for touchdowns, including a 45-yarder to junior Colin Smith, who snatched the pass on a slant route, broke a tackle and took off on his way to the best night of his career.
By the time the game was over, Smith had five receptions for 134 yards and a 54-yard TD catch-and-run that lifted the Tigers to a 21-7 lead with 1:31 left in the third. His dramatic TD was another no-quit effort play that saw Smith break a tackle and run away from Forney to complete a one-play drive and the best back-to-back moments of the season.
The Tigers, leading 14-7 late in the third, took control of the game when Dontay Thomas recovered a fumble at the Tiger 46 to shove the momentum back into the Corsicana huddle, and James followed that play with another on-the-money, right-on-time pass to Smith.
The Tiger D held Forney to just 16 yards on the ground for the night. Forney's Noah Garcia, who was the team's starting quarterback at the beginning of the season, came off the bench and rallied the Jack Rabbits (0-9), completing 17-of-30 passes for 241 yards and a 71-yard TD to Andrew Gafford that closed the gap to 21-14 with 3:30 left in the game.
Garcia did throw an interception as Corsicana's bigger-than-life defensive lineman Brayshun Parrish reached up and snatched a memorable pick -- one he will surely tell his grandkids "about the time". It was that kind of night for the Tigers.
Jon'Richard Washington led Forney's ground game, rushing for 48 yards on 20 carries. But the rest of the Rabbits couldn't find any daylight against a swarming Tiger defense that stopped everyone else, holding the rest to a combined negative 32 yards on 11 carries.
It was an all-out party for the Tigers, who went to sophomore KJ Armstrong, who had a strong night, rushing for 66 yards on 18 carries.
"We won without our two most productive offensive players, Bishop and Jayvon," Wasson said. "I can't say enough about our team effort. That's why I sleep good at night. After all they've been through, they still come out and put forth great effort. If anybody knew the adversity these kids have had to withstand this year they would understand. After everything they have been through they still stayed the course."
Wasson wanted to savor this one -- he knows his kids deserve that and more.
"You usually have a 24-hour rule after a win (when you can only talk about the win for 24 hours), but after this game," Wasson said. "I'm changing it to a 72-hour rule.''
Then Wasson tried to sum up what the victory meant to him and his kids.
"You remember that old commercial about Aqua Velva (cologne)," he asked. "The guy puts on the cologne and he gets slapped hard in the face, and he says, 'Thanks, I needed that.'
"That's how I feel right now!"