Deuce Roberson trotted into the end zone after a rapid 69-yard journey and had only an instant before his Palmer Ridge teammates arrived to hug and shout and rejoice.
Quickly, Deuce blew kisses as he raised his eyes to the blue skies over Falcon Stadium. He was blowing the kisses to Sylvia, the great-grandmother from Arkansas he lost five years ago.
“She’s a big motivation to everything I do,” Deuce said. “Before every game, I pray to her and I pray to God.”
And after most touchdowns, he blows her a kiss, or three.
“I know she’s up there watching me,” Deuce said.
Unfortunately, Deuce’s tribute to Sylvia was misunderstood by Erie fans, who were watching their team lose to Deuce and Palmer Ridge. As Deuce blew kisses to Sylvia, he was directly in front of the Erie cheering section.
Let’s just say Erie fans were not happy.
“All I heard was a bunch of booing,” Deuce said. “I don’t really understand why they boo. I don’t know why they did that.”
Well, Deuce, let me explain: Erie fans were booing because they misunderstood the motivation behind those kisses. And they were booing because you had just sizzled Erie’s defense for a second long touchdown catch in the first half.
Deuce and Palmer Ridge rampaged to a 46-21 victory in the 3A title game, capping a 14-0 season. Deuce, a sophomore, missed most of the second half with an injured shoulder, but next season he’ll again team with junior quarterback Ty Evans for one of the state’s top – and perhaps the top – passing combos.
A few minutes after the game, Anthony Roberson – Deuce’s father – was thinking back to his son’s rise as a receiver. When Deuce was 2 years, 10 months, he already was riding a bike with no training wheels.
“I could tell he was special,” Anthony said.
No doubt, Deuce has a special football heritage. Anthony is a 1989 Air Force Academy graduate who played alongside Dee Dowis, Chad Hennings and Troy Calhoun during a sweet era of Falcon football. A generation later, Deuce and Tyler Calhoun – Troy’s son – are teammates and friends.
Anthony weighed only 152 pounds, but he led the Western Athletic Conference in total yards as a junior and senior.
In Saturday’s twilight, Anthony was standing on the field where he once blazed as a star. He was standing there this time as a proud parent.
“I’m just so proud of him,” he said as he looked at his son. “He’s worked so hard. He’s got the heart of a lion. He’s courageous. He’s blessed with gifts, but he gets the most out of all he has. The sky’s the limit for him.”
Anthony isn’t just talking. This season Evans found Deuce for nearly 1,500 yards and 12 touchdowns. Deuce averaged more than 20 yards per catch. All those numbers should increase in 2018.
This Evans-Deuce connection goes way back, at least by the standards of a high school sophomore. Deuce was a first-grader when he became friends with Evans. When the boys were 7 years old, their fathers woke them at 6 a.m. for extra practice.
Their timing has come from nearly a decade of diligent labor.
“I wouldn’t want any other quarterback,” Deuce said. “He’s my brother. He’s my true brother.”
Ambitious 3A teams will spend the offseason worrying about Deuce and Evans. The duo will return, which means Deuce will be catching TDs and blowing kisses to Sylvia all over the state.
Another major figure in 3A football returns, too.
Noah Roper rushed for 2,631 yards for Erie this season. He’ll be back in 2018. While Palmer Ridge players were shouting and hugging after the victory, Roper was watching from 40 yards away. His left cheek was dripping blood.
A 3A state title rematch in 2018?
“I wouldn’t be surprised at all,” Roper answered. “We both have really good, young teams.”
He laughed softly as he watched the Palmer Ridge party.
“We’ll be back,” Roper said. “We’ll be better than ever.”