GARDINER — Joe White was having a meltdown, the kind of meltdown a football coach can have from time to time. A holding penalty had called back what appeared to be the go-ahead score, a 54-yard Collin Foye touchdown run with just over 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter of one of the nation’s longest standing rivalries.

Gardiner punted the ball away on the next play, and White — veins bulging, choice words spewing out of his mouth in venom and spittle, pacing in circles far away from the Tiger bench — was riled up. A chance to put a five-year losing streak to Cony was slipping away. Tiger quarterback Cole Heaberlin rushed over to White, trying to tell him about something he was seeing out of the Rams defense.

And that’s when White did an about-face.

“That’s good, that’s good,” White said his voice softening as he extended his right arm and put his reassuring hand on Heaberlin’s shoulder. “We’re going to be fine. We’re good.”

And then the coach, himself a one-time player in this 125-year-old rivalry, dropped his shoulders and walked in front of the Gardiner bench, repeating the words, over and over. “We’re good. We’re fine.”

And then…

“We’re going to win this game, boys.”

The Tigers intercepted a pass at their own 5-yard line to end a Cony drive late in the final period. And when Cony quarterback Anthony Sousa hit a long pass to the Gardiner 20 with one measly second showing on the clock in the fourth quarter — compounded by a Gardiner facemask penalty to set up a 27-yard field goal try for the win as time expired — it was hard to believe White still had much faith left.

It was hard to believe the Tigers themselves — hooting and hollering and chanting and trash talking all night — had much left in the tank, either.

But they did.

This signature win was three years in the making. The close losses. The late, drive-killing penalties. The fourth-quarter collapses. The turnovers. The gas tank running empty. Over and over and over and over.

But this wasn’t another regular season game. This was Cony-Gardiner, a rivalry built as much on special moments as on tradition.

“At some point it has to happen,” a reflective White said afterward. “I’ve been saying that for three years. They knew it, and now they believe it.”

After what happened on Friday night, it was hard not for everybody else to believe it, too.

When Foye smashed his way ahead for 10 yards in overtime — like he had on more than a few occasions during the first four quarters, bounding off of bodies, moving piles with his little legs, his will a force strong enough to carry the hopes of one side of a century-old rivalry — it seemed…

… Well, it seemed prescient. At least one person had seen this coming.

Not just during the week in practice. Not just in the locker room prior to kickoff in his team’s eyes. Not just at halftime. Not only in how they reacted to what could have been a game-killing holding penalty.

White had seen it building. He had seen this version of the Tigers growing toward their own moment in the Cony-Gardiner rivalry. A moment all their own.

Joe White had called that moment long before the Tigers had even formed a flash mob behind their own end zone, Foye buried somewhere below it.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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