First-year Southside football head coach Wenstone Nash told his players before kickoff Friday that their game was about more than just the present, it was about every player who preceded them in wearing the Rebel jersey.
“I just said, ‘Leave everything on the field because this very well could be the last time you wear that jersey on this field as a Southside Rebel,’ ” said Nash, a Southside alum.
His players did just that, but it didn’t make a difference on the scoreboard. Vastly superior New Palestine scored 47 points on the Rebels in the first half and cruised to a 53-0 Class 4A Sectional 21 second-round victory.
If it was indeed the program’s final game, it ended in Southside’s worst margin of defeat since losing to Carmel 57-0 on Sept. 20, 1996, and the potential finale only drew about 100 spectators in the Southside section of the bleachers.
No. 2 New Palestine (11-0) put the game away before any of those spectators settled into their seats. The Rebels turned the ball over on their opening two possessions, and the Dragons put up 21 points in the opening nine minutes.
Southside trailed 47-0 and managed only 98 yards of total offense compared to 377 by the Dragons in the first half.
Nash harked back to his “leave everything on the field” speech at halftime, and with New Palestine sitting starting quarterback Blake Luker the entire second half, the Rebels managed to play competitively, but they turned the ball over twice in the red zone and had an attempted field goal blocked.
For Southside, the season ended just the way it started — with a shutout loss. The Rebels lost their season opener 49-0 to Yorktown.
Southside finished its season with a 2-9 record and played through its share of adversity. Nash brought that up with his players huddled around him after the final horn.
Nash noted the team went three weeks in the summer without a head coach. Previous head coach Mike Paul resigned in June after 35 seasons as the face of the program.
The Rebels transitioned to a new coach at a time when they significantly upgraded their schedule by picking up five Hoosier Heritage Conference games vacated by conference defector Rushville.
The odds were stacked against Southside already with the coaching transition and schedule upgrade, but to make matters worse, the potential consolidation with Central hung over the team like a storm cloud ready to cut loose.
In some ways Friday night summed up the Rebels’ season. They were simply undermanned and had no realistic shot of winning the game, and yet played to the final horn, leaving it on the field just as their coach requested.
“We made a lot of mistakes, but we stayed together the whole time and played as a team and that’s really what Southside is,” said Josh Strauch, the Southside quarterback and defensive back who totaled 193 yards and laid a couple vicious hits on New Palestine ball carriers.
Strauch said he spotted some Central players at the game Friday. He wondered if some of the underclassmen he played with this season will team up with them next year as one Muncie high school.
Either way, Strauch said he will always be a Southside Rebel.
“I’ve grown up through Southside. All of my friends go to Southside. There’s so many great people here,” he said. “I’ve learned so much in these four years, whether it be through teachers or the players who came before me.”