By TED RADICK
CANTON — McComb football coach Kris Alge fished through his pockets in the locker room after the Panthers’ 28-3 victory over Glouster Trimble on Saturday at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
Alge found what he was looking for: a black stone with the words “I believe” painted in white.
The stone is a symbol of trust between Alge and junior quarterback Koby Gustwiller.
Gustwiller took a hard shot after throwing a screen pass in the Panthers’ final scrimmage on Aug. 16 at Defiance. He hit the ground, his head snapped back and bounced off the turf, and Gustwiller suffered a severe concussion.
“I don’t remember any of it,” said Gustwiller, who added that the concussion was severe enough that he missed two and a half weeks of school.
Gustwiller’s stepmother, Jodie Gustwiller, gave him the stone.
“I’ve always carried it with me, it was a good-luck charm,” he said.
He passed it on to Alge during the Panthers’ playoff run.
“When we won the semifinal, that’s the first time we’ve done that in 35 years so I felt like coach Alge deserved to have that,” Gustwiller said.
The junior stayed with the team at practice all season, and played one down in Week 10 against Liberty-Benton. That night, he simply took a knee in the victory formation as Alge made sure to get him on the field for a regular-season play.
Alge had a plan, though, and during the week of the state title game he said he wanted to get Gustwiller one pass to teammate Tanner Schroeder if the situation allowed.
That’s what happened in the final minute of Saturday’s championship game. With McComb already up 28-3, Gustwiller came on the field as the Panthers faced fourth-and-6 at Trimble’s 35-yard line.
Gustwiller threw a pass to Schroeder in the right flat for a 12-yard gain.
“Positive yards,” Gustwiller said. “It felt amazing. I can’t describe the feeling.
“I’m very grateful to coach Alge because he let me go in there for a play and get a pass out. It meant a lot.”
Gustwiller said he’ll return to football for his senior year. Meanwhile, he had a heck of a ride as a junior even though his season stats will simply be 1 for 1 for 12 yards.
“It was hard not being able to play, but it means the world to me that our team was able to go as far as we did and accomplish our goal,” Gustwiller said.