I used to think county matchups were the easy part of covering local sports. You get a winner no matter what, right?
Over the years, I've discovered that quite the opposite is true.
First of all, there's twice the work to do -- two coaches to interview, twice the performances to highlight and just a bigger story to write all around. There's also that delicate matter of trying to serve both fan bases with a balanced story.
The stories end up a mess sometimes as the writer tries to be fair to both teams while still trying to work a solid angle to the story.
The more I experience it, though, a county matchup, especially in sectional, is mentally and emotionally taxing.
Of course, Friday's huge sectional matchup is what has me thinking about this. As a sports fan, I'm just wired to love underdogs. When South Putnam pulled a 60-point turnaround -- from a 42-point loss in week four to an 18-point win on Friday -- I was thrilled.
I was thrilled for Troy Burgess, a coach I've been a fan of since we first met in 2007.
I was thrilled for Rob Gibson, the best offensive player in Putnam County and probably one of the nicest kids.
I was thrilled for every single player, coach and fan associated with that program. Very few people outside of that locker room and fan base really believed this game could turn out as it did.
(For the sake of full disclosure, I'll admit I thought their chances were extremely slim.)
But remember, this was a county game. I knew there was heartbreak right across the field. Coach Brian Crabtree, his 17 seniors and the rest of the coaches, players and fans were in a state of disbelief.
My high school football days ended on a stunning upset, so I knew this tune. I'm not fond of it.
As a writer trying his best to be neutral, you left having to process all your thoughts about the game while limiting any reaction you might show to what unfolds before you. Be professional. Don't act happy or upset. Just watch.
Of course, any nerves about my Friday night were compounded by my assignment this week. With two of us there at the game, we decided we should each cover one team. Rather than simply choosing one or the other, we decided Caine should write the normal game story and therefore talk to the winning coach.
On the other hand, I was set to interview the losing coach to give fans that perspective. It's always difficult to give the losing team its fair shake in a story of this type, so a second writer with a second story is the best plan of all.
But where did that leave me? I was stuck either interviewing a stunned coach, one who'd just watched his highly ranked team fall to an opponent they'd easily handled during the regular season. Or I would interview a coach whose struggles with one of its biggest rivals continued another season.
Either way, the prospect didn't seem fun. Ultimately, I have to thank both coaches for being a good interview, win or lose. We always appreciate them taking the time to share their thoughts.
And what can I say to the teams?
North Putnam: Congratulations on a great year.
South Putnam: Good luck. We'll see you next week.
Thanks everyone for the ride so far. It's been a fun season.