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STANHOPE — For a few scary moments Friday at Firebird Stadium, one could have heard the proverbial pin drop.
A hush fell over the capacity crowd as Southern Nash head coach Brian Foster lay on the ground after collapsing just as Eastern Alamance scored a third-quarter touchdown to cut the Firebirds’ lead to 25-22 in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A East final.
Foster assured Saturday afternoon that he felt fine going into the game.
"I felt relaxed at the game, relaxed before the game," he said. "Then to go from that to what’s happening?"
Foster, in his 22nd season as the Firebirds head coach, had fainted two weeks ago in Southern Nash’s second-round win over Northern Nash, but brushed off the incident after the game.
This one seemed a lot more serious. Southern Nash players watched and prayed while Foster’s two sons, senior quarterback Matt and assistant coach Zack, fought back tears.
Suddenly, a voice in the stands started singing the gospel song, “This Little Light of Mine,” which was Southern Nash’s anthem during their playoff run in 2009, the Firebirds last trip to a regional final. The song trailed off after a couple of stanzas but shortly thereafter, Foster was helped to his feet. He was carted off the field and
taken by ambulance to Nash General Hospital. His wife, Kim, later reported that Foster was OK and just had a reaction due to high blood pressure.
But the incident shook the Southern Nash players and assistant coaches, most of whom had played for Foster.
“Coach Foster’s somebody I look up to,” said line coach Kwamaine Battle, a 2006 Southern Nash graduate. “ I shed a couple of tears and then somebody started singing, ‘This Little Light of Mine,’ and it really started coming down then and I just couldn’t help it.
“All the things that have happened over the years and just to see him go down on the field like that and then get back up. He wasn’t able to finish the game but I know his spirit was here. It was kind of tough.”
It was much tougher for Matt Foster, who had to quickly pull himself together and direct what would be the time-consuming drive that left Eastern Alamance no chance to get the ball back.
“He always told us that if something happens, he wants us to finish the game,” Matt Foster said of his father. “So that’s what I tried to go out there and do.”
The Southern Nash players huddled quickly on the field and reminded one another, “This is about more than just football!”
Senior Quinton Cooley, who rushed for 344 yards on 47 carries, has been especially close to the Foster family during his career at Southern Nash. Cooley, who will leave Southern Nash early and enroll at Wake Forest University in a few weeks, said that it was tough watching his coach laying on the field.
“So to see him fall in front of us like that, that’s really hard,” Cooley said. “He’s like a father figure to us and we have a brotherhood here so we’re going to fight for him, regardless.”
The Firebirds will have one more game to fight for their coach, who is expected to be back on the sidelines next Saturday for the NCHSAA 3-A championship game against Charlotte Catholic at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh.
“No, it ain’t over yet,” Battle said with a big grin. “Next Saturday we’ll be at N.C. State — ready!”