Knights next-man-up to topple Trojans in Taco Shack Bowl, 14-13

Missing players and coaches all over the place, the Knights made adjustments instead of excuses to tie the rivalry series at 10 games apiece


Grace Nugent

Senior center Braeden Price hoists the Taco Shack Trophy after the Knights’ 14-13 victory over the Trojans allowed the Knights to bring the cherished golden football to Sunshine Drive for the first time since 2018.

Football coaches and players often use the phrase “next man up” to say that teams can’t use injuries as an excuse for losing. Perhaps no football game in McCallum history illustrates the truism of that principle more than last Thursday night’s 14-13 victory over the Anderson Trojans in the 20th annual Taco Shack Bowl at House Park. 

McCallum entered the game with notable figures absent. Among those was first-team all-district defensive back senior Jake Hissey. Into Hissey’s role anchoring the secondary stepped senior Brock Fanning, who under normal circumstances plays offensive exclusively. 

“I haven’t played defense since freshman year,” Fanning said. “I found out I was playing safety an hour before the game. It just felt full circle to me.” 

I found out I was playing safety an hour before the game. It just felt full circle to me.

— senior Brock Fanning

Defensive coordinator Brandon Grant said the decision to play Fanning was one out of necessity. Senior Wyatt Cunningham was supposed to start at safety but was sick the week of the game and was cleared to play only a few hours prior to kickoff. 

“Brock is normally off-limits to the defense,” Grant said. “I told Coach Amy that we were going to have to use him at some point whether it’s at safety, weakside linebacker or middle linebacker. He knows all of those positions and the adjustments we make.”

To say Fanning stepped up is an understatement. His interception in the first quarter on the Mac 7-yard line prevented a recurrence of the early Anderson touchdowns that befell the Knights in each of the last three Taco Shack Bowls.

Defensive coordinator Brandon Grant and next-man-up safety Brock Fanning leap for a celebratory chest bump just after Fanning’s interception repelled a Trojan drive on the Knight 7-yard line. Photo by Dave Winter.

“I saw [the ball] come out of the backfield,” he said. “I saw [Anderson quarterback] Fred Dale’s eyes look that way and when I caught it I was like, ‘Holy crap!’ Then it was just celebration and yelling.”

The last-minute change at safety did not phase other members of the Mac defense. 

“Honestly I feel like with Brock you can trust him on anything,” senior Colby Napier said. “He knows like every defense, and we sorta just had to play a lot harder on some of those runs.” 

Like Fanning, Napier played both ways, and Grant applauded the cooperation of the offense and defense.

[You have] to give credit to those coaches, especially to Coach Amy and Coach Grant who stepped up.

— head coach Thomas Gammerdinger

“It was just a team effort of sparing Brock some reps on offense, so he could get some reps on defense,” Grant said. “I thought he handled it incredibly well. I think that is a big part of why we ended up winning that game.” 

Fanning believes that the victory was written in the stars. 

“Oh my God, it was awesome,” he said, “it felt like it was destined to happen with all of us seniors and just banding together and getting through that tough game.” 

While Fanning was admirable in filling Hissey’s shoes, he wasn’t the only Knight who had to step up and play a new role. 

The Knights entered Thursday’s rivalry game missing three coaches due to illness: defensive coaches Chris Russell and Steve Searle and most notably head coach Thomas Gammerdinger. 

Gammerdinger had felt sick early with possible COVID symptoms Thursday morning, so he decided he had to take in Taco Shack from his couch. His caution proved wise when his COVID came back positive Friday morning. 

Mr. Featherstone has an extensive football coaching resume that a lot of people don’t know about. He came in and did an excellent job of managing the defensive line rotation.

— defensive coordinator Brandon Grant

But just because he was at his house instead of House Park didn’t mean he was totally uninvolved.

“I was sending some text messages to Grant about in-game adjustments,” Gammerdinger said.

But Gammerdinger gave the lion’s share of the credit to his assistant coaches for carrying the torch for him. 

“[You have] to give credit to those coaches, especially to Coach Amy and Coach Grant who stepped up.”

In Coach G’s absence Grant led the defense, offensive coordinator Joshua Amy coached the offense and Coach Jarred Houston led special teams. 

Mac was left with seven coaches to Anderson’s 12. 

Coach Russell, absent for covid-19 safety protocol, czar of the defensive line, was originally going to have his defensive duties covered by Gammerdinger. 

But with both coaches out, the defensive line was missing a sideline voice with a headset. 

Assistant principal turned defensive coach Larry Featherstone provided a steadying voice of football authority throughout the game. Photo by Grace Nugent.

A familiar Mac face stepped up and joined the coaching staff for Taco Shack; assistant principal Larry Featherstone. 

“Mr. Featherstone has an extensive football coaching resume that a lot of people don’t know about,” Grant said. “He came in and did an excellent job of managing the defensive line rotation.”

I have a real connection to this group of seniors. I am as proud as that group of seniors as when we were down there 14-0 after beating Calallen.

— head coach Thomas Gammerdinger

The defense held on the game’s most decisive play, fourth and 2 from inside the Knight 5-yard line with three and a half minutes left in the game and the Knights’ clinging to a one-point lead. 

After the stop, Grant paced the sidelines urging the defense to be ready to make one more stand. But the Knight offense had other ideas, driving down the field with a punishing rushing attack that drained the clock to end the game before the defense was called back on the field.

“When we got that stop at the end of the game at that point I think our defensive guys were emotionally and physically emptied of the tank,” Grant said. “It was huge of Coach Amy and the offense to march that ball down the field, taking another three and half minutes off the clock.”

Prior to the fourth-down stop, the Mac offense had taken it’s first lead of the game by turning to senior wide receiver Nate Davidson.

After a rough first half, the offense woke up, thanks to some halftime adjustments and a versatile running attack that included running backs Napier and Thomas Lonsdale and quarterback Jaxon Rosales.

For what ended up being the game-winning score, Rosales found Davidson in the corner of the north end zone. 

In the fourth quarter, senior wide receiver Nate Davidson secured this pass from Jaxon Rosales in the corner of the north end zone to tie the score at 13 and set up Dash Levy’s point-after touchdown that would give the Knights the only lead they had all game. Photo by Evie Barnard.

“I remember screaming a lot,” Hissey said of his reaction to the play. “I knew the whole game we were going to win but that solidified it.” 

The touchdown merely tied the score at 13. Thanks to Anderson’s missed PAT in the third quarter, the point-after touchdown following Davidson’s catch gave the Knights the lead. 

From the moment he stepped on the practice field he was ready. … He handled the pressure like a champ.

— Senior kicker Silvio Guzman on sophomore placekicker Dash Levy

Senior starting kicker Silvio Guzman could not attempt the all-important kick because he was plagued by a groin injury, so instead the coaching staff turned to the next man up: sophomore Dash Levy. 

After only one week of playing football Levy walked onto the field at Taco Shack and kicked not just one extra point but two, including the game winner. 

Levy scored his first point in a Knights football uniform, after Rosales ran a designed quarterback sneak to the endzone to put the Knights on the board. 

“I think from the moment he stepped on the practice field he was ready,” Guzman said. “He was willing to do what it takes to help the team win, and I think he did a really exceptional job. He handled the pressure like a champ.” 

Levy’s heroics marked the second time in four years that the Knights made the Trojans pay dearly for a missed extra point that seemed inconsequential at the time. The last Knight victory over the Trojans came in 2018 when the Knights overcame a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to  edge Anderson by the slim margin of a missed extra point, 21-20.

PULL OUT ALL THE STOPS: Senior running back Colby Napier fights off an Anderson defender with under four minutes left in the annual Taco Shack Bowl. The Knights had gained a one-point lead after senior quarterback Jaxon Rosales threw a touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Nate Davidson. The only thing that stood between the Knights and victory was keeping possession of the ball and holding off the Trojan offense. After an impressive stop by the defensive line and several good runs from the offense, the Knights secured their first Taco Shack win since 2018. “I think it was the game plan that the coaches had set out for us that helped us get the win,” said Napier. “It was a great game. Stopping them at the one and then taking it like 70 yards, it just felt great.” Reporting by Grace Nugent. Caption by Kennedy Weatherby. Photo by David Winter.

The Class of 2022 were freshmen for that game, and Gammerdinger expressed extreme pride in his group of 31 seniors. 

“I have a real connection to this group of seniors,” he said. “I am as proud as that group of seniors as when we were down there 14-0 after beating Calallen.” 

While winning Taco Shack is significant to the team, coaches and McCallum community as a whole it is not the end of the line. It is a sports adage that all players in a team sport must be ready for the moment when the team needs them. The Knights lived that adage at the Taco Shack Bowl on Thursday, both players and coaches alike rose to the occasion. It’s a long season of course, but the Knights can rest in the knowledge of how they will respond when the  next man is needed to stand up and report for duty.