Listening from Afar

(Editor's Note) On September 4, 2001, Joe Cashion was called to active duty and assigned to duty in Bosnia. 3 months later his beloved Bulldogs were in Columbia, SC looking for a title. This is his story on how he spent the day waiting for news on how the game played out.

 Recently, Dave Pickren asked me to write a story about what it was like to listen to Camden's state championship win over Union last December through a telephone held up to radio from a country 6,000 miles away.   To be honest, I really hadn't thought much since then about what was going through my mind as Jake Broom's 27-yard field goal won it 24-21.

 As the 2001 season began, I started the year as play-by-play voice of the Bulldogs knowing that after the first two games, my "season" would be over.  My National Guard unit would mobilize on September 4 for a six-month tour of duty in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  I also knew this Camden football team, coming off a 12-2 season and a Lower State title game appearance, had a real shot at playing for all the marbles in AAA football at Williams-Brice Stadium.

 I arrived in Bosnia on September 18 and followed Camden's season as closely as possible from that point forward.  I have to say that without the help of my friends Tom Didato, sports editor of the Chronicle-Independent, and former Camden quarterback Darby Morgan, I never would have been able to stay informed as I wanted to. 

The Dogs rolled through the regular season unbeaten with relative ease but then struggled somewhat to defeat Marion in the playoff opener 26-7.  Round two of the playoffs is something Camden (and Wilson) fans will never forget.  Of all the games I missed, including the Union title game, the Wilson game may be the one I hated missing the most.  Kelvin Grant's 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to win the game on the last play would be an announcer's dream.

 Can you imagine it?  From a sure loss to an unbelievable win in nine seconds isn't something that happens every other week.  I can only hope that if I'm radio long enough, I have the opportunity to call something like that.  I rate that finish up there with the Immaculate Reception, Flutie-to-Phelan in 1984, or Cal-Stanford 1982. 

 Wins over Dillon and Newberry put the Dogs in the championship against Union, the two-time defending AAA champs.  To this point, I had waited until Saturday to find out who won the previous games, but I decided that if Camden was in it to win it, I would find a way to listen live.  An internet broadcast was out, because of a firewall on my network.  However, a 1,000-minute Sam's Club phone card and free phone line back to the U.S. did the trick. 

 The game kicked off just after 8 PM here in South Carolina, but it was 2 AM Sunday morning where I was in Bosnia.  I had arranged to call my dad in Camden about kickoff time and he would prop the phone near a radio, since our station (102.7 FM) was doing the game broadcast. 

 As it began, I thought if Camden could have good things happen early, since Union had plenty of championship game experience, I liked our chances.  Well, the Dogs jumped out to a 14-0 lead and I thought, OK, here we go.  But Union struck back to tie it at 14 going into the break. 

 The second half was nip-and-tuck, with the Dogs going ahead 21-14 only to see the Yellow Jackets tie it at 21-21.  In the fourth quarter, Camden had a touchdown called back by penalty then wound up with nothing after looking at a first-and-goal situation. The Camden defense made a big stand late in the fourth, and then Union got the ball back with one last chance to win it. 

 I will never forget listening to Emerson Phillips' voice on the last play of regulation, as the desperation was clear when Union hit a long pass and nearly scored only to have an incredible play by Camden cornerback Bruce Lee save the game. Even after seeing the play on tape, I still can't believe Lee was able to recover, close and make the play within about 25 yards of the goal line.

 In overtime, I prayed Camden would win the toss, because I think winning the toss and putting your defense on the field first is a huge tactical advantage in the current overtime format.  Fortunately that's what happened as the Dogs held Union out of the end zone and forced a field goal attempt.  Earlier in the game the Jackets had missed a PAT, a point color commentators Eddie Deese and Steve Bratton made, along with the observation that this attempt would be from the hash mark, making the angle on the 19-yard attempt even more difficult. 

 I would never pull for a youngster to fail, especially in a situation like that, but their kicker did miss it.  And I will always remember thinking, at that moment, to run Broom on the field, kick this thing on first down, and take home the trophy.  Kicking on first down leaves you with options even if there's a breakdown or mishandled snap. 

 Interestingly, after I got back and talked with Coach Jimmy Neal, he said he heard people in the stands second-guessing the decision to kick on first down.  There can be no other choice as far as I'm concerned, because what happens if you fumble or throw an interception?  You've got 27 yards between you and the hardware. Kick it!

 Well, kick it they did and Broom of course nailed it.  My boss at the radio station who produced the broadcast, Chris Johnson, told our announcing team to let the crowd tell the tale on the kick.  Once I heard deafening roars, I knew it was all over. 

 Did I miss not being a part of it at Williams-Brice? You bet.  A high school football announcer's dream is calling a championship game.  But did my disappointment take away from the joy I felt at listening to my alma mater win its seventh state title?  No way.  I was so happy for the players and coaches that at that moment, I didn't care I was half a world away. I remembered the devastation on the faces of everyone following the loss to Manning in 2000.  I imagined this probably made up for that.

 

I have to thank Dave and Ed "Full Choke" Overstreet for their real-time updates on the web throughout the day and for mentioning me late in our game.  What a tremendous innovation for someone to be able to follow the action, play-by-play, from anywhere in the world.   And what a great weekend too!  Four of the five games went down to the wire, with two decided in overtime.  ETV didn't exactly pick the greatest time to pull the plug on the Weekend of Champions, did they?

Anyway, as we get ready for the 2002 season, and since I have no impending "vacations" this fall, I hope to contribute to SC Pigskin Prep Football on a regular basis.  While I was gone last season, we lost a tremendous human being with the untimely death of Bob Bacot.  Bob's promotion and love of South Carolina high school football was unparalleled.  I thank Dave and Jim Baxter of SCVarsity.com for picking up and continuing where Bob left off.

Believe it or not, practice begins this week.  So get ready for kickoff, which for Camden will be August 30 at an old and dear rival, Sumter.  Try to make it out for the game, but if not turn on that radio. 

 Are you ready for some football?

 Joe Cashion can be reached at cashjoe@bellsouth.net

 

 

Joe Cashion is a life long Bulldog fan and has graciously volunteered to share his thoughts and musings with SC Pigskin Prep this season. We are honored to have Joe and look forward to his columns all season long.


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