Asked what players he expected to have a big impact in his game that afternoon, longtime head coach Robert Garrett started laughing over the phone, the same gregarious presence that’s graced the Crenshaw sidelines for 35 years.
“I only have one unit,” Garrett said. “The unit gotta click on all cylinders.”
The same school that once dominated the City Section, the same that sent a multitude of players to Division I colleges and a handful to the NFL, entered Friday’s City Section Division III championship against Wilson High with 23 active players. Crenshaw’s drop in enrollment over the last few years has been no secret, a school Garrett called “half-empty” over the summer as he and coaches have fought to keep the football program alive.
So, for the better part of a 5-7 season that’s nonetheless found another title game, he’s had one unit, one group of 11, that stays on the field. The same defense. The same special teams. The same offense.
“That takes a lot of wear and tear on the body … and human bodies are not made like that,” Garrett said.
A trying season for Crenshaw nonetheless ended in triumph, a laughably small group on the sidelines rushing the field following the final whistle as the Cougars rolled over Wilson 49-14.
A blocked punt and return touchdown by Crenshaw’s Collinton Tillett on Wilson’s first drive had the Cougars in good spirits early and their offense did the rest, putting the game away by halftime.
“I’ve been trying to do that all year!” said senior Mar’Kyvion Suell, as he ran off the field with a grin after Tillett’s blocked-punt score.
Most of Garrett’s unit got a chance to shine Friday afternoon, the defensive line stifling Wilson’s by-committee ground attack and offensive line opening lanes for senior Andrew Wynn. The running back/wide receiver/whatever-else-you-can-think-of burst for 59 first-half rushing yards, adding a wide-open touchdown catch in the third quarter for his second score of the day.
Junior quarterback Donce Lewis rushed for two scores and threw for two more, showing nice chemistry with junior receiver Jeremiah Blackmon that bubbled into a pretty touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter.
It wasn’t the same dominant version of Crenshaw the City Section has been used to seeing, the days of Brandon Mebane and De’Anthony Thomas fading. But they continue to weather the storm of change, the kids in Cougar blue bringing another championship back to Crenshaw.
“It’s us,” Garrett said, “against the world.”