Â By Michael Kaplan
There was a growing sense that this one was going to be different. It was going to be special. You could feel it when running back Paul Royster â08 made a juggling circus catch, spun around a defender, and sprinted into the end zone late in the second quarter.
“I went up for it and I missed it, but I knew it was somewhere around me,” Royster said. “I just kept going for it.”
A perfect paradox of the most improbable of seasons for the Wolverines. After losing two heartbreakers to Pasadena and Burroughs Burbank, boy, the Wolverines needed this one. The entire football program needed this one. When the Wolverines upset 15th ranked Carson 31-30, under the bright lights of the Home Depot Center Sept. 29, a resounding statement was made that was heard from Cathedral to Serra High School.
It didnât matter that they were smaller. It didnât matter that Carson had pushed 2nd ranked Dominguez into overtime the previous week.
It didnât matter that there were four Carson fans for every Harvard-Westlake fan. This team did not stop fighting. Not for a second. And it made the victory that much more meaningful.
“This win gave us our season back,” quarterback John Howe â07 said after the game. “It meant so much that we can get this win, especially for the seniors who have been in the system for so long and have never won a game like this.”
Talking about leaders, Howe showed why he was the leader of this team. With 3:10 left in the third quarter and the Wolverines trailing 24-12, Howe dropped back from the five-yard line, but saw an open running lane.
Taking off, Howe set his sights on the goal line as well as the two Carson defenders impeding his path. With a John Elway-esque dive, Howe stuck the ball out over the plane of the end zone for the score.
He may not have the strongest arm nor tower over his offensive line, but Howe is as poised as any high school quarterback in the nation.
He didnât panic after throwing an interception which was returned for a touchdown that put Carson up 24-9 early in the third quarter. On numerous occasions, Howe marched the Wolverines down the field for a score, including a final 14-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Calvert â07, giving the Wolverines a 31-30 lead they would never relinquish.
“Johnâs our leader and he led us. He stepped up when we needed it the most. Heâs an incredibly poised young man,” Head Coach Vic Eumont said, almost panting from his intense jumping up and down on the sideline during the fourth quarter.
“We are looking to make playoffs, but we canât get complacent and have a let down,” Howe said. “We have five games left against strong opponents.”
Spoken like a true field general.
Naturally, the Wolverines came back and pummeled La Canada last Friday. Howe had his second straight four touchdown game, including a run of 12 straight completions, as the Wolverines racked up 38 points.
Mark Twain wrote, “Itâs not the size of the dog in the fight, itâs the size of the fight in the dog.” These dogs never stopped fighting. That is whatâs different about this year. Itâs a group of guys that are scrappy, but confident. From the expression on every one of their faces after disposing of the 15th ranked team of the city, you can tell they want it, and they are focused.
Desire to win is something you canât coach into players. Itâs something that evolves after the euphoric thrill of victory has permeated through each and every player.
Itâs something that, if focused on a certain goal, can produce this thrill. Thatâs why that evening at the Home Depot Center was more than a victory. It suggests that this season is different from those in the past. This team is different from those in the past. And maybe, just maybe, this program has reached a turning point.
The Wolverines are thrill seekers. Like Royster and his catch, they just keep going for it.