Albany Herald Sports Editor Danny Aller
Fifty years from now, what happened at Hugh Mills Stadium on Thursday night will appear to most as nothing more than a date, two names and some numbers in the history books.
NOVEMBER 1, 2012: Dougherty 16, Americus-Sumter 7.
But for anyone with a connection to Trojan Nation, those dates, those names and those numbers don’t begin to tell the whole story.
Not even close.
On that night, in that moment, it was finally a win — one W in a season otherwise full of Ls. Like, eight in a row, to be exact — and 15 straight losses dating back to last year. There’s no denying things have been bad.
But when we talk big-picture stuff — and what it means to the future of the once-proud Dougherty Comprehensive High School varsity football program — the victory was emotional, fantastical, spiritual and filled with potential all in one. You better believe the sun was certainly brighter, and the air certainly smelled fresher, when folks rode down Pearce Avenue on Friday morning.
I wish I could’ve been a fly on the wall at Dougherty all day. I bet if I had, I would’ve heard the morning announcements congratulating coach Corey Joyner, the former Trojans star football player who returned many years later to lead his alma mater out of the depths and back to the Promised Land, on his first win — and wishing him many more.
I bet I would’ve seen the players treated like kings — hugs, high-fives and pats on the back from first period to the final bell — and cheerleaders still in their uniforms. They probably never even changed out of ’em, is my guess. That’s how big this win was.
Just ask Joyner.
“This has been a tough battle for the kids, only winning one game last year and not beating a region team (since 2009),” said Joyner of Dougerty’s long Region 1-AAAA skid, which was 17 games and counting before Thursday night. “This win was all about them.”
Well, yes and no. On that night, the win was about them. But when we talk big-picture stuff, coach, it’s more about you — and what you’re able to do with it.
After all, in three years or less, all the kids on the team Thursday night who played a part in that monumental victory — one that may go down as one of the biggest in program history — will be gone.
By then, a culture of winning must not only be instilled, but expected. And it must be built almost entirely off the shockwaves felt around the state when the Trojans beat a very good team from Americus-Sumter that had more quality wins this year than Dougherty has had in five.
The memory of that night must live on, and every kid who puts on the Trojan maroon going forward must know and believe that losing is no longer accepted at Dougherty.
On November 1, 2012, everything changed.
That is the mantra going forward.
And I hope, for example, Dougherty QB Michael Whatley, who led the Trojans to the win, is just one of many players on this team who looks back some day when Dougherty eventually wins its first region title, or state title, under Joyner, and Whatley turns to someone and says, “We helped start that.”
For Joyner, however, it started when he got the call earlier this year and was told that he had his dream job; the one he’d been passed over for once before. Of course, even he wasn’t sure, with just two regular-season games left and an 0-8 record, if that dream job would end in a nightmarish 0-10 first season.
When it didn’t Thursday, he and his kids understandably went crazy.
Crazy with joy. Crazy with relief.
“I was just excited for the kids. My prayers are always for them to experience success on the football field. They worked so hard in the classroom and on the field and in workouts during the summer,” Joyner said not long after he and his kids danced the night away at Hugh Mills. “I let them be exuberant after the win.”
It means even more because Joyner’s heart has always beaten for Dougherty, because he talks about how much this program can instill pride in the school and what that means to everyone on the East Side. You could hear it in his voice the day he took the job, and it’s there now, louder and with vision — a voice that speaks for his players, his coaches, the school and the community itself.
They were all shouting for joy after the win Thursday, voices on and off the field.
It was the sound of Dougherty on its way back.
On the other sideline, there was undoubtedly shock and disbelief. Although, to his credit, Americus-Sumter interim head coach Chris Wade, who will hope to have the interim tag removed after this season so he can begin building a program just like Joyner, was calm and collected even after a pretty terrible loss. That’s because he knew why it was big for Joyner and his kids. He understands why they celebrated like it was the Super Bowl. He got it.
And while Wade was naturally disappointed in the defeat — a disappointment that would’ve existed after a loss to any team — he made sure to give credit where credit was due.
“They just beat us,’’ he said. “They had a good game plan and played well on both sides of the ball. They had a great plan, and they just beat us.’’
In some ways, it wasn’t a huge shock. Dougherty led Herald No. 2 Westover at the half last week before losing by nine, and there’ve been other games this year where our sports writers have remarked — after covering the Trojans’ games — something to the effect of, “This team is not at all as bad as their record indicates. They’re getting close to breaking through.”
Well, mark it down now: November 1, 2012, was the day they did.
As for how long it takes before the program is completely turned around? That’s still anyone’s guess.
But I, for one, can’t wait to watch it play out.