Commentary: A timeout for character

Union quarterback Tyson Fuehrer maintained his focus and nearly led the Titans to a come-from-behind victory on Saturday. The Titans came up short, but the lessons they learned will go beyond football. Photo courtesy Heather Tianen
Union quarterback Tyson Fuehrer maintained his focus and nearly led the Titans to a come-from-behind victory on Saturday. The Titans came up short, but the lessons they learned will go beyond football. Photo courtesy Heather Tianen

Union football team loses on the scoreboard, but walks away a winner anyway

It was an ill-advised timeout for a football game.

It was the perfect timeout for life.

Rory Rosenbach, the football coach at Union High School, had seen enough. He was frustrated by his team’s lack of composure.

Paul Valencia

Things were going bad for the Titans. They went from bad to worse with unsportsmanlike conduct. 

Rosenbach took a timeout in the third quarter to address his team. This meeting had little to do with football, but it would turn out to have a lot to do with the result of this football game.

The Titans would have loved to have had another timeout in the closing seconds of Saturday’s game against Eastlake at McKenzie Stadium.

Instead, they had used all three timeouts before getting to the 1-yard line, trailing by three points.

With 12 seconds left in the game, the Titans went for a running play. They were pushed back and lost four yards. Just as significant, the clock was running. The Titans, with no timeouts remaining, hustled to snap the ball, spike it, and kill the clock. But by the time they did that, the clock had zeroes on it.

Game over.

Eastlake 35, Union 32.

A timeout there would have allowed the Titans to get another shot at the winning touchdown. (It is unlikely the Titans would have kicked a field goal. The Titans had trouble in the kicking game all day.)

In the end, Union came up just short. 

But Rosenbach expects big things from his team going forward.

It started with that timeout in the third quarter.

Union led 18-5 at the half. Eastlake, however, would score three touchdowns and a safety in less than eight minutes to take a 28-18 lead.

In that span, the Titans had three unsportsmanlike conduct penalties assessed against them and one player was disqualified from the game.

Interestingly enough, Rosenbach said he was frustrated not only by the behavior of his players, but also from their failure to listen to pre-game advice. He and the coaches talked about discipline, about maintaining focus. With it being the first game of the year, everyone’s emotions are on high. It was important, the coaches said, to be smart. 

Rosenbach said he feared he spoke it into existence just by giving his players the warning. 

Anyway, the Titans went from up 13 to down 10 in what seemed like a flash. At that point, knowing that if Union were to win, it was likely going to be a close game. Every decision mattered.

So Rosenbach, in the third quarter, with Union about to start another possession, made a call. He took … a timeout.

A timeout for a character check.

“We did need it. In the big scheme, it was more important for us to figure it out,” Rosenbach said.

He quickly talked about having composure. Naturally, there was some football talk in the impromptu team meeting on the sideline.

“I said, ‘We have two choices. We can continue to go down the hole and make bad decisions and continue to hurt ourselves, or we can start locking in, focus in, and climb out of this thing,’” Rosenbach said. “And they did a great job.”

With more than 4 minutes left in the third quarter, Rosenbach wasn’t worried about needing a timeout later. His team needed a timeout right then.

“Yeah, you want to win the game. It’s a non-league game against a good team. The only thing you worry about maybe — and it’s so far down the road you can’t think about it — is your seeding,” Rosenbach said.

Oh yes. In the old days, only league games had any ramifications for the playoffs. But nowadays, with seeding, the results of non-league games do matter for the eventual playoff teams.

That did not matter on Sept. 3, Week 1 of a long season.

“You can’t think about that. You have to think about right now and right in front of you,” Rosenbach said. “And in the moment, I felt that was the most important thing to do.”

Union would rally with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to regain the lead. Eastlake answered with another touchdown to go up 35-32. The Titans had 1:32 left on the clock to return the favor.

They got to the 1-yard line. Or did they?

After the game, many players, coaches, and fans said they thought the Titans scored. But the official ruled out of bounds at the 1-yard line, with 12 seconds to play.

The third-quarter Titans might have imploded. They might have been issued another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. 

The fourth-quarter Titans maintained their composure, did everything Rosenbach asked of them.

It turned out, the Eastlake defense was better than Union on that very next play. 

With no timeouts left, the Titans had no chance at victory.

Only, in a way, they won something bigger than a football game.

They regained their composure. They regained the respect of their coaches.

“We grew up a lot,” Rosenbach said.

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