By Stone Phillips Anchor
Dateline NBC
updated 12/29/2006 8:23:04 PM ET 2006-12-30T01:23:04

This report aired Dateline Friday, Dec. 29

A Friday night frenzy is a natural here as the North Texas wind.

The small panhandle town of Pampa, Texas is ready for some football:  high school football, Texas-style.

Stone Phillips, Dateline anchor: How big is football here?

Brett Ferrell, Pampa High School football player: It’s huge.  It’s more than big.  You know, it’s what you live for in this town. 

With the bleachers bouncing, and the ball in the air, a remarkable story begins.

It’s about the boys beneath those helmets and pads, their hopes and heartaches.  And a dramatic game with an emotional ending people here will never forget.

In a town that hates to lose, will a sophomore be poised enough to handle the pressure of starting at quarterback?

In a state teeming with talent, will a senior be good enough to land the scholarship that could make him the first in his family to go to college? 

In a sport, as cruel as it is competitive, will this team pull together enough to overcome injuries and a tragedy off the field that tore another boy’s world apart?

At the center of it all is a former player, whose return to Pampa is a homecoming story even Hollywood couldn’t dream up. 

Phillips: What’s this home opener gonna be like for you?

Coach Andy Cavalier: I’ve been through a roller coaster of emotions and still am daily since I’ve come back to Pampa.  From very excited to very nervous to waiting with anticipation to scared to death. I’ve been through it all.

The Harvesters' new head coach 32-year-old Andy Cavalier is following in the footsteps of a Friday night legend. He was the greatest football coach this town ever had. His name Dennis Cavalier, Andy’s father. Over 16 years he built a winning program and character in hundreds of hometown boys.

Phillips: What do you think was the key to his success?

Coach Andy Cavalier: Loving kids and letting kids know that he loved them.

Andy’s dad instilled in him a love of the game from an early age. He coached Andy as a Harvester quarterback. And after college, Andy worked alongside his father as an assistant coach. Their lifelong bond forged through football was shattered. Three years ago when Dennis Cavalier died of a heart attack. He was 58.

Phillips: How deep was that loss for you?

Coach Andy Cavalier: I mean, it was the man who raised me. It was the man who coached me. It was the man I coached with. And, you know, it was very, very, very deep.

Dennis Cavalier always walked off of this field as a winner and he taught the boys of the team to do the same. 

Half of Pampa gathered at Harvester field to say goodbye to Coach Cav. And it was there that Andy and his family scattered his remains, knowing there was no place he’d rather be. 

Phillips:  So you will literally be walking the sideline where your father’s ashes are spread.

Coach Andy Cavalier: I will literally be doing that.  But more importantly than that, where he’ll be watching.

Also watching the game, with her heart pounding, Kathy Cavalier, Andy’s mom.

Kathy Cavalier: My husband’s shadow is huge in this community. In fact, those were the words I had used to Andy, “Do you think you can live in your dad’s shadow?”

Coach Andy Cavalier:  I’m filling the shoes, walking the same path that my dad did.  I mean, I don’t know how it’s gonna come out.  But I hope it’s acceptable. 

Andy Cavalier is not the only one with the eyes of Pampa, and the weight of the world, on his shoulder.  The rookie head coach is counting on another rookie—  #7, Casey Trimble. This is a big week for Casey. He turned 16, got his driver’s license and a vote of confidence from his coach. Now, he was making his own hometown debut in a critical role. 

Phillips: Quarterback of the varsity football team.

Casey Trimble, quarterback: Yes, sir.

Phillips: You’re a sophomore.

Trimble: Yes, sir.

Phillips: That’s pretty good, isn’t it?

Trimble: Every since I was little I’ve always wanted to be on varsity, but I didn’t know it’d come this soon. 

Casey never imagined he’d be starting as a sophomore, and neither did Brett Ferrell. Coming into this season, Brett was Pampa’s quarter back... until he got hurt.

Brett Ferrell, quarterback: It’s been my dream ever since I was this big, you know, to be the Harvester quarterback.  And I worked my butt off to get to where I am.  And now that I’m finally here, this happens.

Standing on the sidelines is not how he envisioned his senior year.  

Phillips: What happened?

Ferrell: I just got tackled in the first scrimmage and broke the inside bone in my arm.  And they thought I was gonna be back, originally.  They were telling me about six weeks.  And I went back to the doctor yesterday and it’s healing crooked. 

We were there when the doctor showed Brett and his parents the X-rays. Then he told them, what surgery would mean.      

Dr. Hampton: Pretty much the end of football season for you.

Brett's mom: I’m sorry. (cries on her son’s soldier)

It’s a bitter pill for the whole family, and a vivid reminder of just how brutal the game of football can be.

Not a word is spoken, as Brett and a teammate drive back to school, passing the stadium that was to have been his field of dreams.  After telling Coach Cav, the emotions come out.    

Coach Andy Cavalier: My heart goes out to Brett.

Phillips:  How do you help him with that?

Coach Andy Cavalier: I don’t know. Other than letting him know that you love him and that you want the best for him. And I want him to be as big a part of this team as he was as if he was playing.

With the senior looking on, the sophomore is about to be tested. It’s Casey’s first big play against the Matadors from Lubbock, Texas. Up in the stands, his mother feels the pressure.

Phillips: Are you nervous?

Mrs. Trimble, Casey's mom:  Yeah!  Can’t you tell?

For Casey, a completed pass is a big confidence builder.  And Coach Cav is about to call his number again.

Casey Trimble: It felt good, really good to break one free. I was pumped.

And his team is now in position to score.    

“Touchdown Pampa!"  In the end zone. And the Harvesters have struck first. They have a six nothing lead.”

For the rookie head coach and his rookie quarterback, their first touchdown in front of the hometown fans is a cause for celebration.

Coach to Casey: Great drive down the field, Casey.  Great drive down the field.  Nice job.  Nice job!  Almost scored your first touchdown! Come on.

But in Andy’s book, there is a moment for the highlight reel, too—Casey Trimble getting a pat on the helmet from Brett Ferrell, the injured senior he replaced.

Ferrell: I know he’d do the same for me. I just have to keep my head up and know that God has a bigger plan for me than high school football.

But right now for Casey Trimble, nothing could be more important than football.  And his stellar start is about to give way to a sophomore mistake.

Coach Andy Cavalier: He waited just a little too late to make the pitch...

The young quarterback hears about it from his coach.

Coach Andy Cavalier: You gotta pitch the ball. Pitch it. Get it into Chase’s hands. And let’s go.

Casey’s mistake could cost the Harvesters the lead.  The Matadors have the ball, the momentum and they’ve driven deep into Pampa territory.  The only person hoping Pampa stops them more than Casey is Andy’s mom.  Having been a coach’s wife for years, Kathy Cavalier knows all too well how much is riding on the outcome of each game.

Kathy Cavalier, coach's mom: They could be putting a “For Sale sign” in your yard one day and they can be asking you to run for mayor the next.  It just depends on what the score of the game was on Friday night.

What call should Andy make to keep the Matadors from scoring? What would his father have done? And what would he be thinking about his son’s coaching so far tonight?

Coach Andy Cavalier: He’s probably thinking, “You’ve got a lot to learn, boy.”  That’s probably what thinking.  (Laughs).

Stone Phillips, Dateline correspondent: As a religious man, you believe God created all things. But especially football?

Coach Andy Cavalier: Yes sir I do. I think God created football with a very specific purpose, Stone, and that is to train young men. It’s a game that symbolizes life. When these young boys go off to become men—they will have to overcome adversity and do many of the things that they do on the football field on Friday nights.

As the second quarter begins at Harvester field in Pampa, Texas, coach Andy Cavalier has already seen his young quarterback, Casey Trimble, deal with adversity.  It was his fumble that could cost the Harvesters their 7-to-nothing lead over the Matadors from Lubbock.   

Phillips: That’s a bad feeling.

Casey Trimble: Yes sir. I was mad at myself.

But just as the Matadors are threatening to score, Andy gambles with a linebacker blitz. Number 19 for the Harvesters, Austin Pritchard, flies into the backfield and tackles the quarterback from behind.

Football not only symbolizes life, it can change life.

And with that, Casey’s error is erased, the Harvesters hold on to their lead.  But the pressure is just starting for this player.  For Chase Harris, number 23, football not only symbolizes life, it can change life.  As Pampa’s star running back, Chase has been working hard hoping to earn a college scholarship.

Phillips: What’s it going to mean to you to go to college?

Chase Harris, running back: Quite a bit, cause I’m the only one in my family who’s going to college.

Phillips: So, you’d be the first?

Harris: Yes.     

Phillips: What’s your strength as a player do you think?

Harris: Probably my speed and power.

Phillips: You like to carry the ball? Turn the corner?

Harris: Yeah. (smiling)

Another player with scholarship hopes on the line is Senior James Coffee,  a star linebacker.   He’s side lined tonight by a leg injury, but he’s still punting. 

Coach Andy Cavalier:   He is a phenomenal punter. He’s left footed.  But his left hamstring is the one he’s pulled.  So he’s gonna be punting with his right foot.

Phillips:  He’s gonna punt right footed?  (Laughs).

Coach Andy Cavalier: (Laughs).  Yeah.

Phillips: With his opposite leg.

Coach Andy Cavalier: With his opposite leg.  And he’s still the best one we’ve got.  (Laughs).

And if you think James’s punting is impressive, listen to his priorities.

Phillips: Where’s football? Be honest.

James Coffee, linebacker: Probably third on my priority list.

Phillips: Behind?

Coffee: Family and God.

Phillips: And after football?

Coffee: Probably be my girlfriend.  (Laughs)

Phillips: Did you just get into trouble giving me that answer?

Coffee: Hope not.

If a healthy outlook, and a sense of humor, are Harvester trademarks, maybe that’s because when it comes to setting priorities their coach doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk. 

Three years ago, when he was working as an assistant coach under his father, Andy told his mother, Kathy, that he was putting football way ahead of his family.  

Kathy Cavalier, coach's mom: “God first, family second, job third,” he said, “You know, I would say that with my mouth, but it wasn’t true in my life. And his job had become his god.”

For Andy’s wife Wendy, it was a difficult time.

Wendy Cavalier, coach's wife: We were newly married. We had one baby, and one on the way. And he was coaching. And it was just—it was kind of rough.

What Andy did would win the heart of any football widow. He walked away from the job he loved.

Coach Andy Cavalier: It was a very big decision. Football had been my life from the time I was very little. But I just realized that maybe I needed to let go of it. And wanting to let Wendy know that she is at the top for me. And my kids are gonna be too.

They moved to a farm owned by Wendy’s family— the footballer on his way to becoming a real-life harvester, at least that was the game plan.   

Phillips: How did he take to farming?

Wendy Cavalier: I mean he got out there, and he gave it his 100 percent.

Phillips: It’s a lot to learn—

Wendy Cavalier: It’s a lot to learn. Something brand new that was not in him at all.

Coach Andy Cavalier: You know, you drive down the highway around here and you see those fields just planted, I mean, they look straight as an arrow.  Well mine weren’t, (laughs), no question.

Phillips: You’re not a farmer.

Coach Andy Cavalier: I’m not a farmer. (Laughs) I’m not. You know—I think…

Phillips: And you got a few pieces of broken farm equipment to prove it—

Coach Andy Cavalier: Oh, lots of evidence. That’s backed by true honest facts. (Laughs)

But the fact that he tried meant the world to Wendy.  And it was with her encouragement that Andy hung up the plow to hang a whistle around his neck again.  Andy still leaves the house before sun-up and works through dinner most nights.  But this time around he started an open-door policy— coaches’ wives and children are a constant presence at Harvester field.   

Phillips: How do you feel when you see him out there?

Wendy Cavalier: Oh, I’m so proud. I know he’s doing what he was meant to do.  I know he’s loving every second of it. I’m just proud.

Coach Andy Cavalier: It feels right for me. I mean there’s no question it’s the place for me to be.

Phillips: You’re more  of a people person—

Coach Andy Cavalier: I’m more of a people person—

Phillips: --than a seed and soil guy.

Coach Andy Cavalier:That’s exactly right.

Cultivating players is Andy’s calling.  And tonight, coaching this kid puts a smile on his face.  Marcos Campos is a small senior with the heart the size of Texas, and a passion for football. 

Phillips:  Are you excited?

Marcos Campos, defensive lineman: I’m more than excited, I’m pumped. 

Marcos wears number five, because he’s the fifth child in his family, and the third son to play football for Pampa.

Campos:  I had two brothers play on here. Actually, both of them got injured playing.

Phillips:  Didn’t make it all the way through?

Campos:  No. I’m the first one out of my family to make it so far.

Phillips: And you’ve had some knee problems, but you’re pulling through that?

Campos: Oh, I’m pulling through.

Coach Andy Cavalier: He’s back this Friday night, thank goodness.  Because we were going to have a lot of problems if he wasn’t.

While Marcos is running the ball, and fighting for every yard... his specialty is defense, taking on players nearly twice his size.

Phillips: You’re a defensive lineman?

Campos: Yes, the nose guard.

Phillips: You’re not that big.

Campos: No.

Phillips: How much do you weigh?

Campos: I weigh 170.

Phillips: You’re going against a 300-pounder?

Campos: Yes.  I guess I have a little more fight in me than the others do.

It’s mid-way through the second quarter, the Matadors driving again,  when  Marcos spins away from two blockers, speeds across the field and makes a big tackle. The size difference—no problem. In fact, when we spoke to Marcos, he seemed less concerned about the size of his opponents, than being seen by Dateline at the post game dance.

Campos: I’m gonna have to ask you to turn those cameras off whenever we’re there.

Phillips:  (Laughs) What’s that supposed to mean, young man?

Campos: I don’t know.  I have to get my groove on.

We asked his girlfriend, Krissa Whitley,  if Marcos moves on the dance floor like he does on the gridiron. 

Krissa Whitley, Marcos Campos' girlfriend: (Laughs)  Yeah.  He doesn’t know how to dance.

Phillips: (Laughs) He doesn’t know how to dance?

Whitley: No. He thinks he can, but he can’t.

Phillips: Have you told him “You can’t dance?”

Whitley: Yeah, I tell him like all the time.

Phillips:  And what’s he say?

Whitley: Nothing.  He just keeps dancing.

On the field, Marcos just keeps hustling. 

Phillips: So you’ve been following number 5?

Mrs. Campos: Yes.

Phillips: What do you rink if this game so far?

Mrs. Campos: It’s great, he’s doing awesome.

His mother couldn’t be prouder, but she’s also concerned.   She remembers the injuries her older sons suffered in football, and knows Marcos is at risk, as well.  

Phillips: Are you worried about him?

Mrs. Campos:  Yes. Because he has a knee injury and a shoulder injury, So I’ve been worried about him.

Then, suddenly, a player is down on the field.  It’s Marcos.  He’s hurt, but how seriously?

If there’s a dark side to the Friday night lights, it is when players get hurt. It’s the second quarter,  Marcos Campos, number 5 for the Pampa Harvesters, is down.

In slow motion, one can see how a tackler held his leg as Marcos was pushed backwards twisting his right knee, a knee that was already banged up.  

Coach Andy Cavalier: Marcos had his knee drained before our Friday game. And there was blood that came out in that fluid. And that typically means that we may need to do surgery but it was determined that that blood was from nothing more than a bruise.

So Coach Andy Cavalier says Marcos was cleared to play in tonight’s game. 

And, despite the rough tackle, he’s up on his feet, telling trainers he’s about ready to go back in. 

But over the next few minutes, as Pampa battles to protect a 7-0 lead, more players go down.

Senior lineman Con Elledge is hurt, and this injury will turn out to be serious. As he’s helped from the field, his left foot dangles—a sure sign of badly torn ligaments.  Gritted teeth behind the bars of a face mask, the gripping image of a player whose season has just ended.  

Then, yet another play that has everyone in the stadium holding their breath. Senior running back Shaveous Kelly, number 1, is tackled by his face mask. The violent facemask penalty may have been unintentional, but it’s the kind of jolt that can cause serious injury.  Fortunately, this Harvester will be okay.   

But in a sport that celebrates collisions and cultivates aggression, the outcome on any given play can be very different, from damaged knees and shoulders—to every coach’s and parent’s fear, head and spinal injuries.           

Coach Andy Cavalier: Football’s become much more violent. I mean, guys are just gettin’ bigger, faster, stronger. You can’t be careful enough.

Andy sees to it that trainers and team doctors are always on hand to help injured players. 

But there’s one Harvester, suited up tonight, who’s been hurting since the season began.  Number 89, senior Chris Campbell.

Coach Andy Cavalier: Chris came into this year with high expectations and a dad that couldn’t wait to see him play. 

Stone Phillips, Dateline NBC: Made it on the varsity for the first time.

Coach Andy Cavalier: He’s on the varsity for the first time in his high school career.  And you know, it should have been just a special, special time. 

But on the same day the Harvesters lost quarterback Brett Ferrell to a broken arm, Chris Campbell lost his father.

Phillips: How close were the two of you?

Chris Campbell: As close as father and son could be.

Phillips: Did he know you had made the varsity team?

Campbell: Yeah.  He knew.  He was real proud of that.

Chris’ dad was a well-known rancher in Pampa, and a former Harvester himself. Over the past few years he had been slowly losing his battle against several chronic illnesses.

Campbell: I walked in one day after practice and I found him in his room completely unconscious, not breathing, without a pulse.

Chris’s father never regained consciousness. At the hospital, he was placed on life support, something his family knew he never wanted.

Campbell: We all went in and said our last good-byes which he couldn’t hear us. And then they pulled the plug and we all gave him gave him our last hug. And it was really hard. It was the toughest thing I’ve ever done.

When Andy lost his father, the entire Harvester football team came to the memorial service.  Remembering how much that meant to him, Andy sent his Harvesters—Casey, Brett, James, Marcos, Chase—every one of them, to Chris’ home.

Coach Andy Cavalier: Just really let his his whole family know that we care about him. I told them I wanted them to all go over there and just give Chris a hug.  And give his mom a kiss on the cheek.  And tell them that they love him.  Because they need support.

Phillips: What did that mean to you?

Campbell: I broke down and I cried. It wasn’t sad tears it was happy tears. Really made me feel good. Really touched me.

Chris is dedicating this game and his final season to his father. Although his illness would have prevented him from coming to the games, his ear would have been glued to the radio.

Campbell: I knew every night that he’d be laying down in his bed listening to the radio, just imaging plays and everything that was going on, you know.

Phillips: Cheering on the Harvesters and—

Campbell: Yeah.

Phillips:     —and listening —

Campbell: In his own way.

Phillips:  for Number 89.

Campbell: Yeah.

As a back-up wide receiver, Chris’ number hasn’t been called much tonight. He’s spending most of the game cheering his teammates.  But when he does go in, number 89 is ready. His job on this play is to go after a key defender. Chris’ block helps Marcos gain more yards.

Campbell: I was running back to the sideline and one of the coaches came up, he said, “Great block.”  And I was just so excited that someone noticed that I had done good. 

And Chris is pretty sure, someone else noticed, as well. His dad.

Phillips: Do you feel his presence in the stadium?

Campbell: Yeah. With the whole team, helping out the whole team doing whatever he can.  You know—

Phillips: This Friday night and every Friday night.

Campbell: Every Friday night. No matter we’re at.

Tonight, as the second quarter comes to a close, a play that stuns Pampa’s faithful.  The Matadors throw a Hail Mary pass.   And on the very next play, they score.

But Pampa will block the extra point attempt, and take a one point lead into the locker room at halftime.  

Phillips: Coach, your thoughts on the first half?

Coach Andy Cavalier:   Ah, we’re competing hard, our kids are playing hard, we’ve already had some injuries that are affecting things we can do. But overall, our kids are playing hard.

It’s half time in Pampa, Texas.  As Casey Trimble, Chase Harris, and James Coffee catch their breath, and Marcos Campos ices his knee, the Harvesters rookie head coach, Andy Cavalier,  lays out his plan for the second half.

Out on the field, the Friday night festivities are in full swing, and once again, it’s a Cavalier family affair. 

As head cheerleading coach, Andy’s mom Kathy, helped organize this little halftime round up of pig tails and pom-poms.

Across the field, Andy’s wife Wendy and their youngest son feel the spirit.

Raucous displays of school spirit are a Texas tradition.  And a reason many people here say there’s no place on earth they’d rather be on a Friday night.

In Pampa, the festivities actually began hours before kickoff.  

Classes let out early for a drumline. Students are herded through the halls to a Harvester pep rally. 

And if you think these boys are the only ones who start dreaming about the Friday night lights at a young age, talk to girls like senior Maegan Patterson.  

Stone Phillips, Dateline correspondent: When did you first think you wanted to be a cheerleader?

Maegan Patterson, cheerleader: Kindergarten. (Laughs)

Phillips:  5 years old?

Patterson: Yes, five years old. (Laughs)  My mom had a cheerleading suit me for me and I put in on and I knew I wanted to be one.

In Pampa, even the fans start early— little kids dressed in RIOT shirts. 

Phillips: Where does the name RIOT come from?

Patterson: It means "Rowdiest Individuals in Texas."

Phillips: Rowdiest individuals of Texas?

Patterson: Yes.

Phillips: And do they live up to their name?

Patterson: Oh, yeah!

But no one embodies the pride and spirit of the Harvesters more than one man: Trent Loter.

He’s had a special place in their hearts and a big role on this team for more than a decade. He’s the green team’s beloved equipment manager. Earlier this week, he celebrated his birthday, as always, on Harvester field.

Phillips: 37 years old.

Trent Loter, equipment manager: Yes, sir. 

Phillips: And you’ve spent probably half your life—

Loter: Yes, sir, I do.

Phillips: —with this football team?

Loter: Yes, I did.

Trent graduated from Pampa High in 1992, the same class as Andy Cavalier.

Coach Andy Cavalier: Ask Trent who the greatest Harvester quarterback ever was and he’d better tell you Andy Cavalier.  (Laughs)  But Trent is just part of the heart and soul of our program. Plus, he knows dang near every mascot in Texas high school it seems. 

At Andy’s suggestion, we put Trent to the test. 

Phillips: Can I ask you some?

Loter: Sure.

Phillips: Here we go. How about South Lake Carroll?

Loter: Dragons.

Phillips: The dragons.  That’s right. How about Lubbock Monterey?

Loter: Plainsmen.

Phillips: Plainsmen. That’s right. All right.  How about the President’s hometown, Crawford, Texas.

Loter: Crawford, Texas.  I don’t know that one.

Phillips: You don’t know?  I stumped you?

Loter: Nah..  But close.        

Phillips:       All right.  (Laughs) The Pirates?

Loter: The Pirates.  I mean—

Phillips: The Pirates.  Okay.

Loter: --the Pirate.  I remember.  I remember.

Phillips: All right.  And here’s the—here’s the ultimate question.

Loter: What’s that?

Phillips: You know the town where I was born, Texas City, Texas.

Loter: Yeah.  Yeah.  I seen the Stingerees town.

Phillips: The Stingerees.  You got it.

Of course, his favorite mascot is the one at Pampa High.

Trent Loter is not alone. Everyone here is mad about the Harvesters.

In small towns all across the state of Texas, high school football teams are a source of civic pride. And games like this one, the social event of the fall. 

Which raises the question:  Is Pampa the kind of football crazed community depicted in "Friday Night Lights," the book that became a movie and a TV series on this network? Players put on pedestals? Coaches pressured to win at all costs?

Students we talked to, with interests other than football, told us Pampa’s not like that. At least not anymore.

Mark Stone: A few years ago, the football players were kind of on top. And we’re pretty much all considered equals now.

Jake Russell: They act the same way as everybody else.  Just like normal people.

Stone: —don’t have to worry about praising them or whatever —

Phillips: Bowing down to the, bowing down to the jocks—

Stone: —bowing down to them, exactly.       

And as for winning at all costs?

Coach Andy Cavalier: Our town wants to win, like any town out there. Now we also believe that winning is not as important as training young men to become successful men in life.

Phillips: You know, a lot of people are gonna hear this. And they’re gonna say, “Sounds nice, politically correct. But come on. This is Texas. It’s high school football. You wanna win no matter what.”

Coach Andy Cavalier: We want—

Phillips: “That’s the most important thing. Whatever it takes.”

Coach Andy Cavalier: No, not the most important thing. Not true.

Phillips: But if you don’t win, are you gonna keep your job?

Coach Andy Cavalier: I sure hope so.

Clinging to a one point lead, the Pampa Harvesters take the field for the second half.

Sophomore Casey Trimble, trying to prove himself at quarterback. 

Chase Harris, the running back chasing his dream of a  college scholarship. 

Marcos Campos, the small senior  who plays big and talks big about his moves off the field.

And Andy Cavalier—pulling his team together, hoping for his first win as Pampa’s head coach.

But just minutes into third quarter, a Matador breaks free. It’s an 86-yard touchdown run. Suddenly, Pampa falls behind. If the Harvesters lose tonight, no one will take it harder than Andy.   

Coach Andy Cavalier: The losses just drag you down.  I mean, they can really, really hurt. And kids are a lot more resilient than coaches.  I mean, they’ll bounce back and be ready to go.  And as a coach, it just hurts.

But as a coach, Andy also believes something his father often said: that the most important play is always the next play. 

Coach Andy Cavalier: No matter how we do on an individual play, whether it’s really good or really bad, the next play is the most important. Because it’s gonna determine how the game goes from there.

It’s a belief Andy tries to instill in all his players.  And sure enough, the next play for Pampa is big one.  Thanks to number 23, Chase Harris. 

Chase Harris: I missed the ball. And I was kind of down about it. And I just wanted to do the best I can to make up for it.

He made it up for it by taking the ball all the way to the Matadors’ 30-yard line.

Stone Phillips:  What’d you think of his kick-off return?

Molly Johnson, Chase’s mom:  It was good, it was good.

Phillips:  It was better than good!

Johnson: Oh yeah, oh yeah. It was almost there.

And Chase’s mother almost had to dig into her purse. 

Johnson: He gets $20 for every touchdown.           

Four plays later, with a little help from Casey, Chase is about to cash in. 

Trailing by five points, and feeling the pressure, Casey and Chase find a way to turn a mangled play into a miracle. 

Casey Trimble: I dropped back and I was looking for the deep ball, and I got rushed, I scrambled out and just dumped it to Chase and he made it happen.

Chase scores a touchdown for his team, $20 from his mom, and another clip for his highlight reel.  It’s the kind of play scholarships are made of.    And for young Casey, it’s a milestone—his first touchdown pass in front of the home crowd.. 

Trimble: Oh, I was excited. Everybody went crazy. 

Especially Casey’s dad.

Phillips: What’d you think when he threw the touchdown pass?

Mr. Trimble: Couldn’t you hear me? (laughs) Being able to do that under pressure makes me proud of him.

Through the rest of the third quarter and deep into the fourth, the Harvesters hold on to their two point lead, as the teams keep battling, neither side able to score. 

Until finally, with less than two minutes to play, number 23 scores again...

But just when the Harvesters think victory is theirs—the Matadors come right back. 

And now, with just 27 ticks left on the clock, and Pampa’s lead cut to just three points, the Matadors  will try a short kickoff.

They’re hoping the ball will bounce off a Harvester so they can recover it, score, and beat Pampa.  

And sure enough, the ball hits a Pampa player, and ricochets right into the hands of a Matador.

Trimble: Everybody was just like shocked.  I couldn’t believe it.

But as the Matadors celebrate their luck,  a yellow flag lies on the field.  A penalty—the Matadors were off sides.  They’ll have to kick it over. 

Andy Cavalier’s first home game as head coach has come down to this.

Radio announcer: Here it comes, it takes a high bounce like it’s supposed, fielded by the Harvesters, they have it....

Pampa has won. 

As the stadium erupts, Andy calls his team together.  He reminds them, as he has so many times, that the most important play is still the next play—winning with class.    

Coach Andy Cavalier: Let’s get ready to shake their hands, tell them they played a great game, and let’s go celebrate. What do you say green?

What began with a Friday night frenzy ends with friendly handshakes.  And before long, the singing of a school song, to a familiar tune, fills the stadium.

For Andy’s wife and mother, this moment is overwhelming.  For 16 years, Kathy watched her husband win on this field.  Tonight, a widow’s pain is soothed by a mother’s pride.

And for Pampa’s rookie head coach, filling some very big shoes, a promising first step in the house his father built.

Post-game interview on the field

Stone Phillips, Dateline: How you feeling personally?

Coach Andy Cavalier: I feel wonderful. I was able too come out here in front of this crowd on this sideline on this field and will my first football game of a many to come as my father did, hopefully.

Phillips:  What do you think your dad would say tonight?

Coach Andy Cavalier: “Job well done. Congratulations. Your boys played hard.”

Chris Campbell’s father would have been proud. His son finished the year with a varsity letter.

Sophomore Casey Trimble went on to score four more touchdowns this year—but as fate would have it, he was sidelined by an injury late in the season.

His replacement, Brett Ferrell, whose broken arm healed just in time for him to throw a touchdown pass in the final game. The senior got his shot, after all.

James Coffee, whose punting and priorities were so impressive, got over his leg injury and went on to be named the district’s defensive player of the year. And soon, he could be signing his name to a football scholarship.

Same for Chase Harris. Number 23 finished with more than a thousand yards rushing and nine touchdowns—earning him $180 from his mom. And the chance to become the first in his family to go to college? Priceless.

And “priceless” is exactly how Andy Cavalier would describe his journey home... and the job he loves. 

Coach Andy Cavalier: What a way to make a living.  Coach football.  Coach a game that you loved to play, that you still love to teach.  I get to make a living coaching it.

Phillips: Yee-haw.

Coach Andy Cavalier: Yee-haw.  Heck of a deal.

Still, one question remains.  

Without Marcos Campos, the scrappy senior who played against guys twice his size, Pampa might not have won tonight.  As we followed him into the post-game dance, with our cameras rolling, we wondered, with the guy with the banged up knee bust a move? 

Marcos gets his groove on, after all.  Who said he can’t dance?  

And as if the Harvester’s Friday night victory weren’t perfect enough, it all happened under a harvest moon.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints

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