CARTHAGE That Carthages Bailey Wilkinson was one, tough football player was widely known to Comets fans and foes alike.
As a running quarterback, and weighing just 160 pounds, the Carthage senior took a pretty good beating every game this season with no apparent affect on his ability to make big plays.
But that was just a prelude to what the Times All-North Section 3 MVP accomplished in the last two games, under the toughest of circumstances with a season and potential championship on the line. Fairy tale writers could not make this scenario up.
Wilkinson finished the season with not one, but two broken bones, one in each hand. It is the ultimate testament to his inner strength and competitiveness that Wilkinson never once asked coach Sam Millich to come out, and never complained about how much he was hurting.
There was no way I was going to miss those last two games, he said. My team counted on me too much.
Wilkinson had already established himself as a pressure player with scintillating performances throughout the season in leading Carthage into the Section 3 Class A playoffs.
The Section 3 Class A title game, however, set the standard for a remarkable stretch for the Comets senior leader. During a rematch with Indian River in the Carrier Dome, Wilkinson broke the bone below his left ring finger on a first-quarter running play.
I didnt know it was broken, but I knew it hurt, he said. Everyone else was out there banged up a little, so I kept playing because we needed to win.
Playing through the pain, Wilkinson forever etched his name in the Carthage annals by engineering a 90-yard touchdown drive in the final two minutes with no timeouts left. He completed seven passes to four different receivers, ran twice for first downs, then completed the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run in the final 20 seconds. Wilkinson then pitched the ball to Josh Yelvington for a 2-point conversion that gave the Comets a dramatic win and their second sectional crown.
We had all the faith in Bailey on that drive, Millich said. But we never realized he was hurting so much. Thats just shows why hes a winner and has the inner drive that is immeasurable.
The following Monday, Wilkinson went to an orthopedist and learned of the broken bone. He was warned of the risks of playing in the Comets state quarterfinal against Union-Endicott that weekend. But it never crossed my mind not playing, Wilkinson said.
He decided on a padded glove to protect his hand, and then wore another glove on top of it. It was a little uncomfortable at first, but I knew I had to wear something, Wilkinson said.
However, in the second quarter at Vestal High School, Wilkinson took a helmet shot onto his right, throwing hand. He came to the sidelines fearing the worst, again. He said it continued to hurt the rest of the game. I just kept going and throwing the ball, he said as the Comets saw their season come to an end with a 43-7 loss.
Said Millich: Im not sure if any other kid would have kept playing, especially with us way behind. But Bailey is not an ordinary kid. Hes one of a kind.
Another doctors visit that Monday confirmed he had chipped a bone in the middle knuckle of his right hand. So when he returned to school with casts on both hands the next day, everyone was kind of shocked. They didnt know what had happened. We all had a good laugh.
The cast on his left hand was removed this past Tuesday. The other one will be on for a few more weeks.
Its more annoyance than anything, he said. But it was all worth it. Im glad I played.
Millich said that Wilkinson, who rushed for 989 yards on 166 carries and 16 touchdowns, and completed 47 of 109 passes for 691 yards and six scores, also played against Nottingham earlier in the season with a partially separated shoulder.
Bailey had a terrific season on the field. I had as much confidence in him as any player Ive ever coached, and trusted him to death, Millich said. But he is also an outstanding high character, quality young man. I was very fortunate to have been able to coach him.