The 12U edition of the Johnston Panthers began trickling into training camp in mid-July with the fresh hope of a new season playing on their minds. They were older, taller and another year wiser from the last time they encountered the Johnston youth football coaches and team moms all the way back in October of 2018.
From the very beginning of camp, it was obvious that there would be no shortage of personality, but there was however, a glaring shortage of personnel. The club started camp with 18 rostered players and although the boys worked hard throughout training camp, they watched helplessly as the roster shrank down to just 16 players — the minimum size allowable in the AYF.
Yet, with all of that notwithstanding, the boys set aside the size of the roster, and began concentrating on the quality of its number. All throughout the summer, the boys prepared, trained and worked as a unit, doing whatever was asked of them with the highest intensity each boy could muster, pushing themselves each night physically and mentally.
Coming out of camp, week 1 saw the Panthers pitted against a familiar rival, CLCF, champions of last year’s AYF Super Bowl. Undaunted, the Panthers took the field with an air of confidence. After a few bad breaks on the field and a few kinks yet to be ironed out, the champs proved to be too much.
Returning back to the drawing board early the following week, it was clear that the boys were unshaken by a loss that they would not allow to define their young season. They picked up their intensity, and picked up one new player in the process, a familiar face that brought their number up to 17 rostered platers. Determined to improve, remaining poised while trusting in each other, they believed as a club that things were not as bad as the first game may have indicated.
Despite that tough loss to CLCF, the Panthers had yet another great week of practice. The boys worked relentlessly with coaches to patch some of the issues identified, to build on what they had learned and by weeks end were ready to move forward with the utmost confidence in themselves and their teammates.
When game day arrived, the 12U Panthers were ready for their opponent. They had put in a maximum effort and felt prepared to perform at their best. The Woonsocket Redskins came out prepared as well and right out of the gate connected on a deep 40-yard touchdown pass on a third and long on their first possession of the game.
Johnston answered Woonsocket’s impressive first quarter score with a touchdown of their own in the second, with nothing smooth, nothing high-flying, just tough. A broken inside run, taken to the outside, 15 yards to the house to tie the game and eventually after a successful conversion attempt, elevated the Panthers a 7-6 lead. The score remained that way until the half, with both defenses rising to the occasion.
After the half, the Panthers recovered a fumble at midfield on the kickoff. After a near 11-minute drive, the Panthers scored again on a blast up the middle from the 2-yard line and again completed a conversion—adding to their lead, making the score, 14-6 with just over nine minutes to play.
Again, on a third and Long, Woonsocket took to the air and connected on a deep touchdown pass making the score, 14-12. The Redskins failed the kick, which would have tied the game.
The 12U Panthers, holding on to a 2-point lead in the fourth quarter of the football game, were confronted with one last obstacle, stopping the Woonsocket Redskins on the their own 40 with two timeouts and over 2 minutes to play.
The young team rose to the occasion and held the Redskins from scoring. As the clock expired, players hugged each other and coaches, ecstatic after getting that first elusive win over a high caliber team.