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Sports Column | Bucky Dent: Running the race to its finish

Bucky Dent

Bucky Dent

About 10 years ago, I interviewed a minor league manager named Frank Fultz.

His Kingsport Mets team was coming to the end of a good season that was going to wind up just short of a division title, thanks to a late run that was good but not good enough. Kind of like this year’s Miners, for instance.

Anyway, after a win in Bristol on a Monday night where there wasn’t enough of a crowd to start a good fight, Fultz and I were talking when I asked him about falling just short.

His response: “All I can tell the guys is we can still run the race through the finish line. Run all-out through the tape.”

Which brings us to Friday night and what happened at Johnston City, where the home team did something no Black Diamond Conference team had accomplished in 37 games. Indians 28, Fairfield 26.

Who cares how sloppy it was, that Johnston City hacked up four turnovers while the Mules had five and a bad punt snap that led to three touchdowns? This was an exciting game, everything it was heralded to be and then some.

It was as physical a game as I’ve seen in a while. Even the Indians’ star player, Austin Brown, marveled at what happened on the game’s opening kickoff, when Fairfield’s Noah Barger returned it 79 yards for a touchdown.

“I got table-topped,” he said.

Of course, Brown made his own impact later with a spate of heavy hits and his own kickoff return score, an 85-yarder to start the second half. That was a reminder of why a perennial Top 20 program like Wisconsin was so eager to get a verbal commitment from him. Only a truly elite athlete makes that play.

The immediate aftermath of that game, Johnston City celebrating its biggest win in years and the Mules walking off the field with a rare BDC loss, brought to mind another quote, this one years ago from the late, great coach Don Shula.

“Success is not forever and failure isn’t fatal,” he said.

Or as coaches love to say, you’re only as good as your next game. Beating Fairfield ultimately doesn’t mean much if the Indians lay an egg this week against Hamilton County. Losing at Johnston City can’t be allowed to turn into multiple losses for Fairfield.

Both teams can still have championship years. They’re just a third of the way through the regular season, barring COVID-19 issues that are always ready to pop up around seemingly every corner.

The same can be said for Murphysboro after its Friday night loss to Carterville. The Red Devils surprised a lot of people by beating Carbondale and Anna-Jonesboro. Losing to the Lions isn’t terrible, given their talent up front, and can serve as a lesson.

This week will tell a lot about these three teams. Even more so in Murphysboro’s case, because it starts conference play against a much-improved Massac County team at home. Can they learn from disappointment – or for Johnston City, can it focus on this game – and get the result they want?

See, this is what high school sports should teach you when done correctly. Good coaches not only instruct you about the game, but how to man (or woman) up after important results. If you accept one and the other with equanimity, you’re going to be equipped to win the big one in life years from now.

Or as Frank Fultz put it to me on that late summer night when we were standing near home plate in an empty ballpark, you run the race to its finish.

Bucky Dent covers prep sports for the Southern Illinoisan and also votes on the Wooden Award. He can be reached at bucky.dent@thesouthern.com or at 618-351-5086.

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