Bissinger describes the state semifinal matchup between Permian and Carter. Carter is the more talented team, with players like Evans and Edwards, known for their toughness and offensive prowess. Bissinger notes that only Ivory Christian and a few other players could be considered real stars; otherwise, Permian must make do on its “heart,” grit, and effort. The game is in Austin, in December, and it is wet and icy. Winchell before the kickoff, worries that the wet grass and cold weather will give him a bad grip on the ball. He has an ill omen that the game might not go well.
Always a kind of subtle prophet, Winchell fears, correctly, that the weather will shake his confidence, and will keep him from playing his best. Of course, it is hard to know whether Winchell’s confidence shakes because, in the first place, he is not able to imagine himself winning the game—and then the wet grass becomes merely an expedient for his failure. But nevertheless, Winchell feels that all is lost before the game begins.
The game begins, and Winchell’s prediction seems accurate. He cannot get much momentum offensively, and though Chris Comer scores first for Permian, the kicker misses the extra point. Carter promptly scores themselves and makes the extra point, to go up 7-6. At halftime, the Permian players do their best to encourage one another, but the players seem to recognize that they are overmatched, and that their season is probably slipping away. Permian adds a field goal in the second half, but Carter scores another touchdown. Winchell continues to have difficulty moving the ball down the field, but the Permian running game, under Comer, is strong enough to make a final push in Carter territory, with only a minute to go and a touchdown needed to win the game (the score is 14-9, with Carter in the lead).
As Bissinger describes it, it becomes apparent, throughout the stands, that Permian has lost its “Mojo,” and that few of the players now believe that they have what it takes to beat Carter, even though they are still in the game at the beginning of the second half. Carter is an intimidating squad, filled with athletes who will go on to play in college, and perhaps Permian has met a team whose talent so far outstrips its own that no amount of “heart” can make up for it. Yet, on the other side, one might argue that it is precisely lack of heart that allows Permian players to think that they can’t handle Carter’s better. That if the Permian team had more heart it wouldn’t lose its “Mojo,” and thus might win.
Bissinger then summarizes the responses of various fans and characters to the events on the field. He notes that Shawn Crow, former Permian standout, is watching the game nervously, as is Gaines’ wife Sharon, and Boobie, in the stands, where he wonders whether he made the right decision leaving the team. Winchell throws up the ball on fourth down, the last chance for the Panthers to make it into the end zone and tie or win the game . . . but the pass falls short, and Bissinger notes that the Carter fans and players jump around wildly, knowing that they are now headed to the state championship. Permian has lost, 14-9.
From the stands, Bissinger mimics the structure he used at the beginning of the book, to detail the loss to Midland Lee—he takes the viewpoints of various characters, all watching the game at once, and shows how they deal with the sadness of the season winding down, in the games’ final minutes. Here, Bissinger takes a kind of artistic license—although, as a reporter, he cannot be in several places at once, still he captures something “true” about the final minutes of the season.
On the ride back to Odessa, and afterward, the Panthers are devastated: many, like McDougal and Chavez, cry bitterly, knowing that their seasons and high-school football lives are over. Gaines thanks the team for its wonderful year, and they gather together one last time in the locker room, to pray together. Gaines has done just enough, in reaching the final four, to keep his job for another year, but most of the seniors will be moving on to lives without football. Bissinger closes this part of the book with a scene of trainers removing the names of Winchell, Chavez, Christian, and others from the lockers, preparing to post up new names, for the members of the ’89 squad.
A sad scene. The individual players are crushed by their loss, both by losing and by the end of their football careers (which many of them have been brought up to believe will be the pinnacle of their lives). Meanwhile, even as these players have been celebrated and made stars in their town from the Watermelon Feed through the season, they can never be more important than the Permian team, the Permian “brand” and its legacy. The coaches and the institution protect that legacy, rather than individual players, and their loyalty is to the institution itself. The players, like Shawn Crow before them, just float into life without football, without a clear safety net—a terrifying and murky future, while the players a year behind them just shift up into their places.