What's It's Like to be on the Losing End of a Hail Mary
Updated: Dec 9, 2020
Twenty-four years later, it still stings.
When the ball was snapped, we led 10-7. All of three seconds remained in the first round playoff game between Miami High and Palmetto. Time for one final play—a Hail Mary from the 41-yard line. From my linebacker position in the prevent defense, I saw the ball launch from Miami High quarterback Wilkie Perez’s hand. It arched high above the lights at Curtis Park and descended toward our end zone, where four of Palmetto’s best athletes surrounded Miami High’s Chatarius “Tu-Tu” Atwell. I raised my arms in victory. The game and round one of the 1993 football playoffs would go to the Palmetto Panthers. We’d gone on the road and beaten the tar out of one of the best teams in Dade County. Up next was a rematch with the Northwestern Bulls, a team we’d throttled earlier in the year. After that, it was another showdown with the Southridge Spartans, a team that had rocked us just weeks before. None of it was to be. I didn’t believe it at first. Even after I saw Atwell emerge with the ball, even after I saw the referee signal touchdown, even after I saw Miami High’s sideline erupt in celebration, I didn’t accept that we’d lost. It wasn’t until I turned and saw the wave of fans climb from the home team’s stands and storm the field that I dropped to my knees and buried my head in the battlefield turf. Our season was over. Those who were there, either as players or fans, can attest to the truth that the 1993 playoff game between the Miami High Stingarees and Palmetto Panthers was one of the great games in the history of Dade County high school football. There were no fewer than ten future Division I football players on Palmetto’s roster that year. I’d wager Miami High could boast the same, at least. To my knowledge, no footage of the game exists online. Maybe that’s the best way for a legend to endure. It was a hard-hitting affair with All-Dade players from both defenses knocking heads all night, including Miami High’s unblockable defensive end Jonathon Nance and Palmetto’s All-American middle linebacker, Antron Wright.
It was a showcase of skill, featuring not one but two All-Dade quarterbacks facing off with Miami High’s Perez and Palmetto’s Ivan Mandel calling the signals from under center. (Remember way back in the 90’s, when QBs took direct snaps?) They threw laser-tight passes to gravity defying speedsters like Miami High’s Atwell and Palmetto’s Connie Moore (who this writer has called the greatest WR in Dade County’s history). There was plenty of speed and toughness on display in both team’s backfields. Miami High’s Antwoine Elvine pounded into the teeth of Palmetto’s defense all night while Palmetto’s Markeith Cooper broke free for a dazzling 32-yard run. There was even a 42-yard field goal by All-Dade place kicker, Carter Logan, with just 22 seconds left in the fourth quarter to put Palmetto ahead. (Yours truly was never as scared on a football field as I was before snapping the ball between my legs for the attempt.) What a game.
Nearly a quarter century has passed since that November night in Miami, enough time for me to appreciate being a part of history even if it was in a heartbreaking loss. As I write this, history is set to repeat itself. The 2017 Palmetto Panthers are preparing for a first round playoff showdown with the Miami High Stingarees this Thursday night at Tropical Park. Maybe this year’s version of the game will become a classic just like the game we played in 1993. Maybe this time, the good guys will win.
From 1992-94 Fred Smith played with and against some of the greatest football players in history as a member of the Palmetto Panthers. His debut novel, The Coolest Labels, is loosely based on his experience as a teenager in South Dade County in the early 1990s.