For the second time in three weeks, it happened.
There’s no way to tell who started things, what was said or whether anybody crossed the line. But that didn’t matter to Southern Lee coach Eric Puryear.
Once was too much. Twice in 21 days was over the edge.
Far over the edge.
Somewhere along the handshake line following the Cavaliers’ game with Overhills on Friday night, a spark ignited and suddenly a gaggle of high school football players were trying to get toe-to-toe. The loosely formed but well-defined two lines quickly morphed into a blob of navy and Carolina blue.
It was a scene a little further along than the one that marred the handshake lines following Southern Lee’s game with Western Harnett. While Southern Lee is the common denominator in the two incidents, it’s unclear whether the frustrations of a trying season were the impetus for either episode. In fact, there’s really no way to know.
What is clear, however, is that neither scene came close to getting out of hand. The coaches on the field who separated the teams and calmed the egos — bruised and overstimulated alike — deserve all the credit. This is why the fear that some sort of altercation would break out over the awarding of The Herald’s Brick to the victorious team of the Brick City Bowl was always unfounded. Capable men are on the field to instill order when the testosterone of high school kids suddenly goes haywire.
But that’s not to say the actions of any of the kids involved are, or were, justified.
Or ever will be.
That much is also abundantly clear. Puryear threw himself into the middle of the emerging throng on Friday, and with help, was human tear gas, dissipating the subjects before anything unruly could happen.
It makes sense that it should never happen again. Because after witnessing the same kind of behavior for the second time, it didn’t matter one iota to Puryear who was right or wrong, who was the instigator or the reactionary. He blasted the Cavaliers, lining them up on the back line of the far end zone, in front of God, the Overhills Jaguars and every fan who was left in the stadium, and let his team have it, making clear in no uncertain or inaudible terms that that kind of conduct would not be tolerated in his football program.
And then, after 48 minutes of football on the coolest night of the year that featured a brisk breeze, he made the Cavaliers run sprints, no doubt giving the players a good idea of what Monday’s practice is going to be like.
It may not have been the proudest moment of Southern Lee football, but it was still a telling one. And so were the loud cries of support from the home side from fans cheering on a winless and overmatched team during and throughout the game. Southern Lee is only in the infant stages of rebuilding its program, but fans, most of them parents of the players, are clearly on board and in full allegiance to the steps Puryear is taking in Cavaliers football.
They made their sentiments loud and clear, not unlike Puryear did following the Melee That Wasn’t after the game.
On the other side of the county, just seven days prior, the same kind of statement was made at Paul Gay Stadium. As the Yellow Jackets trudged away from their postgame huddle following yet another agonizing and heartbreaking loss, Lee County fans rose and gave the team — and no doubt its coaches, led by legend Burton Cates — a standing ovation.
At this point, the county’s teams have combined for just two victories. But the men in charge of resurrecting the programs have worked themselves into the hearts of their respective fan bases.
That’s the biggest win either team — or the football fans of this county — have had in a long, long time.