The Winning Touchdown/Chapter 20

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They worked on the grandstand even during the morning of the day when the Canton Military game was to be played, and then the tired but satisfied students laid aside their hammers and saws, picked up the scattered nails, and sighed with relief.

"It was a big job—bigger than I thought it was when I proposed it," spoke Tom, "and I'm glad it's over."

"So am I," added Holly. "We'll take in some money, now. I hear there's a big crowd coming."

"We may have to take some of our funds for the relief of the college, if things keep on," remarked Kindlings. "There was another meeting of the faculty this morning, about that law and claim business."

"Is that so?" asked Phil. "Cæsar's ghost! but things aren't doing a thing but happening to Randall!"

'Well, it's always darkest just before daylight," observed Sid, and then the coach came along, and ordered them all out to light practice, in preparation for the game soon to be played.

Tom and his two chums were on their way from the gymnasium, refreshed by a shower bath, and were going to their room, to rest a bit before appearing on the gridiron with their team mates.

"Did you find out anything more about Lenton, Tom?" asked Phil, for it had been agreed that Tom was to do a little detective work concerning the queer lad and his files.

"No, nothing of any account," he answered. "I talked with some of the fellows who room next to him, and all they could tell me was that he is always tinkering on something or other. He's making some kind of an electrical machine, Perkins said, and he keeps buzzing away at it half the night. He's a queer Dick, all right, but I don't know that he had anything to do with the taking of our clock and chair."

"I've got my suspicions," declared Phil. "I'm mighty sure he made that false key to our room, anyhow, and I'm going to put it up to him some time soon."

"Oh, I wouldn't," advised Sid. "It might make trouble."

"Well, didn't he—or someone—make trouble for us?" asserted the quarter-back. "But I'll be pretty sure of my ground before I make any cracks. Now for a rest, and then——"

"A good fight!" finished Tom, stretching out his arms. "I hope we wallop 'em good!"

As both Captain Woodhouse and Mr. Lighton were sure of the ability of Randall to beat the military eleven, a number of the substitute players were allowed to go on the 'varsity team, much to their delight, for they were hungry for a scrimmage.

There was a record-breaking crowd, and the rebuilt grandstand was taxed to its capacity. Though the Canton game was one of the minor contests, it always drew well, and was quite a society function, for the school was an exclusive one. The cadets, in their natty uniforms, came almost in a body, and of course the girls were there in "beautiful bunches," as Holly Cross said. Not only damsels from the military school town, but from Fairview and from Haddonfield.

"I tell you what it is," said Holly, as he was practicing with his mates; "'uniforms git gals,' as the schoolboy once wrote in his composition. 'If you can't be a soldier, be a policeman, for uniforms git girls.'"

"It's got 'em here to-day, all right," observed Sid. "I hope that——"

"That the heads of our particular girls aren't turned by any of the cadets," finished Phil, with a laugh.

The game was on, and it was seen that, while Randall had every chance of beating, she would have no easy contest for the victory. The cadets played with a beautiful precision, and their team work was something that made Coach Lighton sigh in vain.

"Why can't I get our fellows to play like that?" he asked in despair of Captain Woodhouse, during a lull in the game, when one of the cadets had the wind knocked out of him.

"It's because of the changes so late in the season," declared Kindlings. "We miss Kerr and Bricktop."

"Well, go on in and do 'em up," advised the coach, as the referee's whistle blew. "Don't let 'em score on you."

"Not if I know it," answered the captain.

The game was resumed fiercely. Knowing they had little chance to win the game, the cadets devoted all their energies to trying to score. They wanted at least one touchdown, or a field goal, and Randall was determined they should have neither.

In the first ten minutes of play, Randall had shoved the ball over the line, and the goal was kicked. Then, after some rushing tactics, which demonstrated that the cadets' line was stronger than at first appeared, Phil gave the signals for some kicking plays. But it was soon demonstrated that Canton was almost as good at this as was her rival, and while it was desired to get some practicing in punting and drop work, it was deemed too dangerous.

"Straight football," ordered the captain to the quarter-back, and the game went on in that style.

There were several forward passes, that netted good gains, and the onside kick was tried, until a fumble nearly resulted in Canton scoring, and then it was not used again.

Up the field the Randallites rushed the ball, not so fast nor so easily but what they felt the strain, and soon there was another touchdown against the cadets. There was almost another in the first half, but the whistle cut the play short, and the nearest the military lads had been to scoring was when they tried for a field goal, and failed, because Sid broke through and blocked the kick.

With indomitable energy, the cadets went at their opponents again in the second half. Several fresh players were put in, and Captain Woodhouse allowed other substitutes to try their abilities.

This nearly proved the scratching down of a score against Randall, as the new lads did not hold well in line, and they were being shoved back for a loss, when Phil called for some kicking tactics. This took the ball out of danger, and soon our friends had again crossed the military goal line.

It was characteristic of the pluck of the Canton lads that they never gave up. At it again they went, hammer and tongs, giving their heavier rivals no rest. It was a much more "scrappy" game from the point of playing, than had been expected, and on occasions excitement ran high. Several times Randall was penalized for holding in the line, or for off-side play, but this was due to the eagerness of the substitutes, who had not the seasoned judgment of the 'varsity men.

The game was drawing to a close, amid a riot of songs and cheers. Randall had rolled up a big enough score to satisfy even the exacting coach, and there were but a few more minutes left to play. Canton had the ball, it being given to her on a penalty, and they were just over the centre line, in the Randall territory. There came a signal, and the Canton left half-back was sent charging into the line between Sam Looper and Bert Bascome.

Whose fault it was no one stopped to figure out, but there was a big hole opened, Sam was sent sprawling to one side, with Bascome on top of him, and the man with the ball was through the line, running like a deer for the Randall goal line.

Sid Henderson tried for a tackle, and missed, and then George Carter, who was playing full, got ready to throw the man with the ball. But the latter proved to be a player of exceptional ability, and speeding straight at the full-back, he suddenly dodged, so that Carter, who made a dive for him, also missed, and went sprawling.

There was now not a player betwen the Canton man and the goal line. Like mad, his friends leaped to their feet, and sent cheer after cheer ringing into the air.

"Touchdown! Touchdown! Touchdown!" was the frenzied yell.

"After him!" shouted Captain Woodhouse. "Don't let him touch it down, fellows!"

He was running desperately, but speed was not his strong point. Tom Parsons, however, was on the alert. There was not many who could beat him at the scudding game, and he tore off over the white marks after the cadet, with a fierce desire to pull him down in his tracks. It was a hard race, but Tom won, and grappled his man in a fierce tackle from behind, not two yards from the goal line. Down they went heavily, lying there for a few seconds, the breath knocked from them both.

"Do—down!" gasped the cadet, and there were tears in his eyes, for it meant the end of the hope of his school.

"Too bad, old man," spoke Tom kindly, "but we really couldn't allow it, you know. It was a good try, though."

The other did not answer. He still had the ball, and there was another line-up, but before the play could be made, the whistle blew, and Randall's goal line was still inviolate.

"How'd he get through?" demanded Captain Woodhouse, when the cheering was over, and the players were going to the dressing rooms.

"He got through between Bascome and me," said the unlucky Snail.

"It wasn't my fault," declared the tackle. "He just pushed Sam over. It wasn't my fault."

"Well, it was somebody's fault," grumbled the captain, "and if it happens again, something else will happen."

There was quite a jolly time after the game, in spite of the defeat of the military lads, and the left half-back, who had made the sensational run, and who had so nearly scored, was properly lionized.

"When are you going to have another little dance, girls?': asked Tom, of Ruth Clinton and her two friends.

"When you boys have another fire at Randall," was the quick answer.

The little party of students had some refreshments together, and then, as a little shower came up, the crowd scurried for shelter, the girls going back to Fairview.

"Well, it was a pretty good game, all right," remarked Tom, as he and his chums were walking down the corridor to their room.

"Pretty fair," admitted Phil. "Hold on a minute, fellows; I want to see something."

"What?" asked Tom.

"If there are any more keys in the door," answered the quarter-back, "and also whether anyone is in there. Listen!"

They approached their portal cautiously, and waited in silence for a moment, but heard no sound. Then they entered, finding no false key in the lock.

But, no sooner were the chums in their apartment, than they were made aware of something strange. As if by common impulse, they came to a stop in the middle of the floor. Then Tom cried:

"Listen! Our old clock! The alarm clock!"

A loud ticking was heard—a tick different from that of the mahogany timepiece. Tom switched on the light.

There, on the mantle, in the place where it had always rested, was their battered old relic! They gazed at it, scarcely able to believe their eyes. Then Sid remarked:

"The clock has come back!"

"And only increases the mystery," added Tom, slowly.