MASSILLON, Ohio - Brian Dwyer was losing his grip. He was trying to hold his camera steady, but his hand was trembling. He had come to watch his son's team compete for a state championship, but he had not expected to watch his son play.
''I'm trying to hold the video camera,'' Dwyer said. ''and now I'm shaking. It's just incredible.''
Brian Dwyer Jr. - B.J. in your program - received a battlefield promotion Saturday night, and was briefly in line for a medal of honor. Moeller High School's backup quarterback, with only three varsity completions to his credit, replaced injured starter Ryan Cooper in the second quarter and promptly tossed a go-ahead touchdown pass.
It would have been sweet had the story ended there, but B.J. Dwyer had run out of miracles for this evening. Canton McKinley rallied to beat Moeller 31-16 decisively and deservedly. The Crusaders were not likely to beat the nation's top-ranked high school team with a hobbled starting quarterback or an inexperienced backup. Or, perhaps, with John Elway.
''I thought B.J. played a great game,'' said Moeller coach Steve Klonne. ''But we'll always wonder if Ryan could have played the whole game how it would have come out.''
Dwyer's dad began wondering as soon as he saw Cooper limping. Much as he prized this platform for his son, he questioned whether it was too much to ask after a season on the sidelines.
Shades of Boomer
''The first thing I thought is: 'He (Cooper) can't be hurt. They can't afford to have Cooper hurt in any way,' '' he said. ''Then there was the idea of this being the last game of the season and there not being enough practice for B.J. You don't know if he can handle the pressure.''
For a while, B.J. Dwyer seemed impervious to the pressure. The junior quarterback assumed command of the Crusaders offense and immediately completed four of his first five passes. He found Tim Hilvert on a quick slant with 1:33 remaining in the first half for a 13-yard touchdown and a 16-10 lead.
He was living a dream. He had come off the bench like gangbusters - like Boomer Esiason even - and forged a fine memory on a foggy night. To see him run around the field following his touchdown pass was to witness youth in all its uninhibited exuberance.
''There wasn't any pressure on me,'' B.J. Dwyer said later. ''We do double rotations in practice every day. I know all the plays. It was just a matter of me performing.''
The pressure Dwyer could not deny was from McKinley relentless pass rush. All-State defensive end Ken Peterson caused Cooper's ankle sprain and hurried Dwyer into some premature passes. The Moeller backup would complete only one pass in the second half and lost a fumble that the Bulldogs converted into a take-control touchdown.
''Their defense tried to get me out of the pocket,'' Dwyer said. ''They blitzed on every play.''
Reality is harsh
In the end, the better team prevailed over the better story line. B.J. Dwyer had waited all season for a little glimpse of glory, and patiently for the most part. But when a kid starts leaving the dinner table as if he were dropping back for a pass, you have to believe he is anxious for an opportunity.
''We've talked all year long,'' the father said as the teams fled the field at halftime. ''I told him, 'They need you when it counts.' I feel like for the 110% he put into every practice and every game, it was a big reward for him.''
Later, B.J. Dwyer may see it that way. But reality can be harsh. He finished Saturday's game back on the bench, as Cooper tried to orchestrate a miracle finish. Afterward, he was in tears.
''I feel bad for the team,'' B.J. Dwyer said.