As the minutes passed and Orange senior running back Marvante Beasley still laid on the field motionless with more than 10 coaches and trainers surrounding him, his Panthers teammates fell into a grief-stricken state.
The home Hillside crowd was still settling down from the halftime homecoming festivities when Beasley went down on the first play from scrimmage – an otherwise mundane short-yardage run up the middle – in the third quarter. A hush came over the stands as they realized the severity.
Hillside coach Ray Harrison saw Orange players and coaches forming a huddle on the other sideline. He turned to his team and, without using many words –“Hey! We’re going over there.” – his players knew what to do.
The Hornets players and coaches jogged over to Orange’s huddle and formed a massive orange-and-navy prayer huddle.
“That was an absolute class act,” Orange coach Van Smith said. “Hats off to Hillside, their coaches, their players – fantastic men. What fantastic role models those coaches are, what great young men those players are.”
“What’s No. 8’s name?” one of the Hillside players asked, just to be sure he got it right.
The prayer was done quickly, and the players exchanged handshakes, hugs, well-wishes and quick words of encouragement afterward.
“Hey,” said one Orange assistant as he reached out to a Hillside player for a handshake. “That’s the best thing I’ve ever seen on a football field.”
The crowds seemed to agree, applauding as the two teams separated one more time.
“We’ve got to instill some certain characteristics in our kids that we want to see them develop as young men. Understand that they’re hurting, understand that we’re all brothers in football. Regardless of if it’s Orange and Hillside,” Hillside coach Ray Harrison said. “We wanted to make sure we were praying this young man up and we’re all one.”
Harrison continued: “Life is bigger than football. This is going to be a few minutes of their lives, so I just want to make sure we’re impacting the guys for a greater mission.”
Beasley put two thumbs up as he was carted into an ambulance. He had movement in his arms and legs, which made doctors think it was only a stinger. He was having quite a game – an interception on defense and a rushing touchdown on offense.
The Hillside PA announcer offered more words of comfort to the Orange faithful as the ambulance rolled away. The night before, Orange had almost the exact same scenario play out with a junior varsity player, who was still in ICU on Friday.
“Before they put him on the board I heard them talking to his dad and they were assuring him it was all precautionary,” Smith said. “He had some tingling throughout his body, particularly in his legs.”
Smith said it was hard at first for his team, which has many players who have played together since middle school or before, to focus. They had just gotten an inspired halftime speech by Beasley, who is a senior captain.
“What would Marvante want you guys to do? He’s going to want you to focus up and go out there and win this thing,” Smith said.
Beasley posted Saturday morning that he was out of the hospital and cleared to play on Friday.
“Good morning everyone, I’m currently out of the hospital and feeling a lot better. First and for most (sic) I want to thank the man upstairs, and everyone who sent a prayer for me,” he wrote at 10:26 a.m. “Glad my boys pulled out the win! Oh yeah I’m also cleared this week to play so let’s keep it rolling.”
He followed up later with “The support system is strong, wouldn’t want to play for anyone else!”
Orange won the game.
Both teams won the night.
“We get caught up in this game, and we think we’re coaching football, but we’re coaching kids. And it’s all about these kids coming in and teaching them life lessons and keeping them safe,” Smith said. “We want to win, we want to compete, and we have rivalries with each other, but the bottom line is these are young men who want to be safe and healthy. You work with these kids day in and day out and you love them – they’re like family. So it meant the world for (Hillside) to come over and pray with us tonight.”