What can Memorial football take from its first loss this season? Opportunity and growth

Anthony Kristensen
Evansville Courier & Press
  • Final: No. 2 Reitz 34, No. 3 Memorial 0

EVANSVILLE — Memorial football coach John Hurley spoke to his team postgame, his Tigers no longer unbeaten. They huddled after their 34-0 loss to Reitz, formerly one of two blemishless teams in the area, but together regardless. The players bowed their heads for the traditional team prayer in the southeast end zone at Herman Byers Field, moods soured and lessons learned.

Two games remain before the postseason begins — home against Vincennes Lincoln and at Castle — and a loss after not having felt one at this stage can have different reactions. Inspiration or demoralization; education or derailment.

For Hurley and Class 4A No. 3 Memorial, they hope for and are confident of the former in each of those sets. The words shared in the Reitz Bowl postgame huddle indicate as much.

Scoreboard:Check out the Week 7 Evansville-area high school football scores

“The world’s not gonna end tonight. We’ve got a game next week and we gotta learn from what happened,” Hurley said. “The biggest thing is you better compete. Good football teams are gonna try to hang 35 on you if you don’t compete and we didn’t do a good job tonight.”

“It’s for sure a motivating factor,” junior linebacker Alex Broshears added. “You really just gotta come back next week, we all gotta stay disciplined, we all gotta work harder, watch more film, do more at practice. That’s really all it is.”

The Tigers (6-1) are missing pieces and that’s no secret. Starting quarterback Matthew Fisher and running back Porter Rode missed Friday and last week’s win over Bosse, though Rode went through some warmups at Reitz. Hurley spoke of players needing to make the most of their reps in their absence. 

“Everybody gets an opportunity,” Hurley said, “it’s whether or not you take advantage of it.”

Memorial’s Landen Horning (28) runs the ball as the Reitz Panthers play the Memorial Tigers at the Reitz Bowl in Evansville, Ind., Friday Sept. 29, 2023.

One positive to take is a better second-half performance, in which some chances may have been grasped.

Broshears said the defense was better after the break. The Tigers only allowed one offensive score after halftime, though the 4A No. 2 Panthers (7-0) scored in the dying moments on a 97-yard interception return. Junior quarterback Liam Bryant came in for the fourth quarter and gave the Tigers their best drives of the night. There hasn’t been a timeframe on Fisher’s absence and, should it last longer, Bryant may have staked his claim as the man to beat while the starter recovers, though Hurley didn’t say if he’d play against the Alices.

“I think he took advantage of his opportunity,” Hurley said. “That’s the key on the football team. We had a guy go down and we’re trying to find another guy. Guys can sit back, go home, get reinforced that they’re not getting an opportunity or they can take advantage of it.”

Memorial’s Liam Bryant (4) steps back to pass as the Reitz Panthers play the Memorial Tigers at the Reitz Bowl in Evansville, Ind., Friday Sept. 29, 2023.

Those were the postgame conversational themes: Opportunities and growth. Memorial had things going its way for the first six weeks of the season. That wasn’t the case Friday. Long after the final buzzer sounded and buses were boarded, the red-type "MEMORIAL" was the scoreboard’s only remaining word.

That perhaps embodies what comes next for the Tigers: Just Memorial. A single focus and a lone goal. Learning. Growth. Development. Two weeks remain before teams say goodbye, and how the Tigers respond from Friday’s loss will determine how far they go.

“Everybody can be a cat of the walk when things are going the way you want them to go,” Hurley said. “But when things aren’t going the way you want it to go, true colors will come out and that’s what you learned.”