EUREKA — Football, like life, is a wonderful free-for-all.

It touches the heart. Pushes young warriors to the point of tears. Inspires in infinite ways and reminds us how fleeting glory can be.

Maybe it's good to be reminded right now. Reflect on what the game means for so many of us beyond the politics, firings, hirings and most of all money, that soul-sucking stain that taints the pro and college ranks.

Had the Eureka football team won its State B championship the way it had all of its other games this fall, last weekend wouldn't have been quite so special. Wouldn't have carried the same emotional weight. Wouldn't have been quite so easy to recall 50 years from now.

This was messy. The best guy on the team — maybe the best player in all of Class B football — had the whole town of Eureka holding its breath after his third carry. Biggest athletic event in the history of this almost-to-Canada town and suddenly quarterback Garrett Graves can hardly walk.

"He comes over to the sidelines and says, 'Coach, I think I broke my lower leg,'" Eureka coach Trevor Utter recalled. "He said 'It's right under my shin and it hurts like crazy.'"

Despite the pain, Garrett still wanted to play. Even petitioned to stay in the game.

So Utter granted the wish. Allowed the man in Graves to rise up instead of treating the senior leader like a boy.

Football imitating life. That day you lose your job with bills stacking up. Lose a loved one. File for bankruptcy.

We've all experienced times when were sure something was broken.

The lucky ones, all of us that played high school football, get to fall back on priceless experience. Because pain and disappointment are part of the game. Players are defined by how they handle it.   

"Garrett limps out there, we give him some ibuprofen hoping maybe that will help and we're hoping he can kind of figure out how to manage it," Utter said. "He couldn't run and he couldn't set his feet to throw very well."    

What happened next was magical. The linemen spoke up, eager to take the reins themselves and earn a win on grit. The running back that so often played a supporting role, Chet McCully, delivered the game of his life.

The reminder came shining through: Football will never be a one-man game. You may only read one or two names in the newspaper box scores on Saturday mornings, but there's so much more to the story.

"You know there was that five to 10 minutes in the first quarter we were a little uncertain as to what now?" Utter recalled. "What are we going to do with our offense and can Garrett play defense? It's a 13-7 game.

"Fortunately Garrett was still able make the right calls at the line of scrimmage and put us in the right spots. He still helped his team win and his teammates really rallied around him."

Eureka 47, Shelby 7.

If you're a Griz football fan, you'll be glad to know Graves will don Maroon & Silver in 2018. He was recruited as an athlete so it's uncertain where the 6-foot-3, 190-pound spark plug will play.

But I think we all can agree the Grizzlies need a few more Treasure Staters like the Pride of Eureka. A guy who three days after playing football with searing pain was in wrestling practice — not to wrestle, just to be there with his teammates with his ankle in a bucket of ice water.

Anyone that tells you football is too dangerous, or not worth it, needs to spend a few minutes with a middle school principal like Utter.

"What the football team has accomplished has a profound effect on those kids in the pride of their school and community," he said. "They want to be a part of that. The motivation level spikes.

"You want kids to want to work harder to accomplish something in life. I see the excitement and it's super fun. I see it every day."

Utter, whose team has won two straight state titles, has a message for those that insist football should be shut down because of head injuries.

"It drives me crazy to hear all this brain talk," he said. "Obviously injuries can happen and ankles and shoulders and knees and heads and all of that. At the same time, we put teenagers behind the wheel of a car and let them drive all the time. Are we going to say stop doing that?

"Then I hear people say these high schools focus too much on sports and not on academics. I'll tell you what, the boys that lettered on my football team, their (collective) grade point average is going to be 3.5 or higher."

There's so many great lessons that come through sports. Some come the hard way, as Graves will attest.

Those are the ones you remember most.

Email Bill Speltz at bill.speltz@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @billspeltz.

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