By Greg Finan, Jr.
This past Friday night marked the first time in years that any member of Team Nugget had been under the Friday Night lights in front of a stadium filled with crazed fans. For Nugget Publisher Matt Aiken it marked the first time. For Nugget community news reporter Jake Cantrell and myself it had been years since we had been in such a situation.
But, there we were set to take on LCHS quarterback Tucker Kirk, LCHS tight end and defensive end Aaron Hopkins and LCHS wide receiver Trey Wilkes in a Pass, Punt, Kick Nugget Challenge in front of a sizable crowd at the Burial Grounds at Cottrell Field for Meet the Indians Night.
The entire thing was the brainchild of Kirk, who had thrown down the gauntlet weeks earlier when I went to cover one of the football team’s workouts.
I was on board before Kirk could even finish his sentence.
The rules would be simple, each team would consist of three members and each member of the team would either pass, punt or kick a field goal with the goal of going from one end of the field to the other. Whoever made their field goal would win.
As is the case with all the Nugget Challenges, I immediately began to think of ways in which Team Nugget could even the playing field with Team Lumpkin.
While Aiken practiced his throwing skills with his two sons Bowen and Theo, Cantrell and I took to the field at LCMS to practice our nonexistent punting and field goal kicking skills. The two practices we had, one a week before the challenge and one the day of the challenge, weren’t completely foreboding but weren’t that reassuring either.
So, when Meet the Indians Night finally arrived, the feeling for Team Nugget was that we might just pull this one off. I mean, we did have a ton of cheats up our sleeves.
When the Purple and Gold game reached the end of the third quarter, it was our time to shine.
PUNT, PASS AND KICKING IT OFF
Kirk went first in the pass portion of the challenge, launching a 52-yard pass that had Team Lumpkin in strong position from the get go. It was a thing of beauty. Kirk’s phenomenal arm was something that Team Nugget knew it would have to contend with, but we had no idea just how well he was going to pass it.
The stellar throw made Team Nugget reach into its big bag of cheats.
Instead of a regulation football, Aiken would be throwing a Nerf missile football.
And, living up to his nickname as “The Human Nerf Gun,” Aiken launched the Nerf football 47 yards down the field. However, despite the strong throw by Aiken, Team Nugget was still five yards short of Team Lumpkin after the pass portion of the challenge.
Hopkins was up next in the punting portion of the challenge.
Our cheat for the punting portion of the challenge became a chaotic mess as former LCHS football players Dart Parker and Sanquil Jackson, current LCHS football player Ethan Kline and LCHS tennis player Laken Ferrell rushed onto the field from the sidelines towards Hopkins. The scene flustered Hopkins and he quickly punted the ball down the field to the 15-yard-line.
Originally Team Nugget had planned to pull out Nerf guns with the intention of skeet shooting Hopkins’ punt while Parker, Jackson, Kline and Ferrell rushed towards him. But, our rushers’ enthusiasm kept us from even taking the Nerf guns out of our big bag of cheats.
With Hopkins’ punt completed, it was time for Cantrell to get his shot at punting the ball. Cantrell’s punt was a booming one. His kick took its first bounce at the 14-yard-line and rolled its way through the end zone.
With the pass and punt portion of the challenge complete, Wilkes and I took turns attempting our field goals.
Wilkes amused the crowd by hamming it up while setting up his field goal from the 15-yard-line.
Wilkes’ shenanigans were all for naught, however, because when his foot connected with the ball it went end over end in a line drive fashion that was neither high enough nor far enough to make it through the uprights.
In a word, Wilkes field goal attempt was awful. And I mean that in the nicest way possible.
The kick looked like several that I had kicked earlier in the week in preparation for this challenge. It was the kind of kick that I didn’t want to have in front of the large crowd at the Burial Grounds.
With Wilkes missing his field goal attempt, I knew that I could pull out a miraculous victory for Team Nugget if I could just get enough distance on my kick.
The pressure was on.
I lined up the kick as Cantrell held the ball in place and went through all the processes I had learned from my extensive YouTube research on how to kick a field goal. Everything felt right as I lifted my finger to check the wind. For a second, I could feel the magic of Wesley Wells building up inside of me. But, that all changed when my foot connected with the ball and I watched it sail far left and way short of the uprights.
I had gone from Wesley Wells to Ray Finkle in a matter of seconds. For those of you too young to know who Ray Finkle is, I highly recommend you check out Ace Ventura Pet Detective.
The two missed field goals forced a tie-breaker challenge that would decided it all.
It would be a foot race to the end zone with Team Lumpkin starting from the opposite 25-yard-line and Team Nugget starting from midfield. The team to have all their members pass the goal line first would be crowned the Pass, Punt, Kick Nugget Challenge champions.
The crowd cheered us on as we raced down the field.
I watched as Aiken and Cantrell took off towards the end zone like they were racing against Usain Bolt. I tried to keep up, but my legs just wouldn’t move fast enough. I felt like Two Bit the Drill, the consummate loser during the Home Depot races at Braves games. I wanted to go faster, but my body just wasn’t cooperating. As I sprinted towards the goal line I noticed Hopkins and Wilkes were right on my heels.
My Nugget Challenge versus Mateo Golloshi flashed in my mind and I remembered that I was able to beat him in the float race by abandoning my float and diving towards the finish line.
It had worked before, so I was positive it would work again.
However, as I flung myself through the air towards the end zone, I realized that I had started the dive a bit prematurely. I hit the turf and slid past the goal line a split second after Team Lumpkin’s final member had crossed it.
They say football is a game of inches and that is exactly what this Nugget Challenge came down to, mere inches.
With Team Lumpkin emerging victorious in the challenge, we awarded Kirk, Hopkins and Wilkes first place ribbons.
After the ribbons were handed out, Team Nugget pulled out and raised The Nugget Challenge runner-up participation trophy towards the crowd. It was a fitting moment for us because our mantra going into the challenge was: We came. We saw. We participated.
Then, in one of the most magical Nugget Challenge moments, Jackson, Aiken and myself lifted Cantrell up in the air and carried him off the field as he proudly hoisted the participation trophy above his head.
From the amount of smiles that I saw on my teammates faces, on the faces of Team Lumpkin and on the faces of many of the spectators, I think that the Pass, Punt, Kick Nugget Challenge will be a challenge that will be talked about for some time.
And, though Team Nugget fell once again, I am so glad that interest in The Nugget Challenge hasn’t faded and that it has been resurrected by another generation of Lumpkin student athletes.
In fact, I already have another challenge lined up for this coming Saturday when I take part in a LCMS band challenge and learn to play an instrument with a room full of sixth graders.
It may not wear me out as much as Kirk, Hopkins and Wilkes did, but it is guaranteed to take my breath away.
JOIN THE FUN
If you are a LCHS or LCMS student athlete and want to be the next challenger in a Nugget Challenge, email Greg Finan, Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org.