It was just four words — a simple call and answer — but it spoke volumes.
With 5:23 left in the game with Ponitz at Welcome Stadium on Thursday night, one Belmont player on the sidelines suddenly cried out:
“Who are we?”
And his teammates chorused back:
A few players took turns with the proud query and each time the answer got louder:
It was the first time all season that chorus arose on the Belmont sidelines and had the support of a scoreboard glowing into the night.
With 5:23 left, Belmont — the team that had been outscored 171-0 in its first three games — led 20-6.
That’s how the game ended and as the clock had approached all zeroes, the chants were replaced by a giddy, all-consuming jubilation on Belmont’s side of the field.
A couple of players grabbed the team’s cooler of ice water, slipped up behind new head coach Marcus Vaughn and a nearby assistant and dumped it on them, leaving the startled, scrambling, laughing pair with their blue coaching shirts soaked and clinging to their ample bodies.
On the field, offensive lineman Baryes Allen hoisted up wide receiver Raymond Jenkins, who extended his arms like an airplane on a victorious flight. Some players danced, others chest bumped, one was in tears. Up in the stands, Belmont’s small but mighty band blasted out another song.
And Damarion Calahan— who they call “Dee Money” and who, on this night, was one of the Bison stars, both in the game and during the Homecoming festivities at halftime — turned toward the joyous crowd and searched until he saw his family. Then he waved.
Vaughn looked to the stands as well so he could share the moment with his mom, Teresa Dockery, who was in the front row with his grandmother, Helen Howard, and his younger brother Willie.
“My grandmother doesn’t always come to the games,” the 34-year-old coach explained later with a grin. “I’m still her baby and she doesn’t like seeing me get beat up.”
And his mom?
“She wrote a prayer and sent it to me,” he said. “She said, ‘Make sure you read it before you go out on the field.’ And I did.”
And on this night, the Bison prayers were finally answered.
It hadn’t been that way in the first three games.
In the season opener, Urbana scored on the very first play of the game and then on almost every possession after. The Hillclimbers led 67-0 at the half and then called off the dogs in a 76-0 victory.
The next week Chaminade Julienne scored on the very first play and ended up winning 67-0.
Columbus South then topped the Bison, 28-0, in Week 3.
The Belmont players soon found the treatment off the field to be more bruising than in the games.
“We were slammed on social media,” Calahan admitted. “People said we were ‘trash.’”
It wasn’t always easy within the confines of the program either.
Wednesday, on the eve of the Ponitz game, Vaughn gathered his team on its practice field behind the school and tried to reinforce a positive outlook.
“Every gameday in these first weeks we’ve had an incident,” he said. “We had guys fight. Guys say ‘I hate you.’ Things like that. And what has that gotten us?”
“Losses,” answered several players.
Vaughn stressed they were brothers and should be playing for each other. That they were stronger together.
“I want them to see their hard work pay off,” he said once his team was gone. “I want them to feel good about themselves and be able to go to school the day after a game and be proud of who they are and what they did.”
‘Let’s have some fun’
Vaughn grew up on Brooklyn Avenue in West Dayton and played football at Meadowdale and then Central State.
After college, he moved to Columbus and at age 25 went from the JV coach at Columbus East to the head coach when the guy who had the job joined the U.S. Marshals Service just weeks before the season opener.
It was a learning experience. His team went 1-9 and afterward he said he went off and “learned how to be a head coach.”
He worked several years on the staffs at Briggs, Africentric and Northland high schools — coaching basketball and track, too — and returned to Dayton last March to take the open job at Belmont, a program that had just six wins over the past three seasons.
“I’m a product of Dayton Public Schools and I wanted to come back and help my hometown and the kids here,” he explained.
He said his mom and his late father — who died when he was just 5 — both went to Bemont. His grandfather worked as an administrator with DPS athletics.
He said his first football meeting in the spring drew 22 boys.
Undaunted, he said he set out to make connections with students and their families. He promised there’d be a JV team, something Belmont hasn’t had in a while, and he began to post photos and video clips of players and team drills on Hudl to give his players some recognition.
Slowly he drew more interest in the program.
One player who returned to football was Calahan, who broke his leg before last season, never played and instead devoted himself to basketball. A 5-foot-9 guard, he was the City League’s second leading scorer last season and won second team All City honors.
Thursday night he starred as a wide receiver and a defensive back.
Before the game Vaughn said he left his players with two thoughts:
“I stressed carpe diem — to seize the day and give everything you have — and I told them that it was Homecoming, and they should enjoy the moment. I said ‘You can’t get it back. It will never happen again, so let’s have some fun.’”
‘That’s what it’s all about’
After an error-prone start, Belmont finally got the fun started when lineman Arty Rand blocked a Ponitz punt. Although the Bison didn’t capitalize on the ensuing possession, the field had been flipped and soon after they had the Panthers stalled deep in their own territory, setting up another punt near the goal line.
The Bison’s Anthony Clemmons blocked it and Calahan picked up the ball and stepped into the endzone for Belmont’s first points of the year. He said it was the first time he’d ever scored a touchdown and he ran the width of the endzone with the ball held above him in one hand as his exuberant teammates rushed toward him.
Just before halftime Belmont scored again when quarterback Dy’Lan Wilder — who started the season as a wide receiver — plunged 3 yards for the TD. Again, the two-point effort failed, but Belmont had a 12-0 lead at the half.
For Wilder, the night would only get better and better.
He stayed on the field at halftime and soon had a red and gold crown placed on his head and a white sash with gold lettering that read “Homecoming King” draped over his shoulder and across his chest. Three other players — seniors Denzell Ogle and Calahan and freshman lineman Justin Netherton — were part of the Homecoming court.
Practicing what he preached, Vaughn joined the quartet on the field for a Homecoming photo before they all returned to the dressing room.
Although Ponitz quarterback Shameer Cunningham would score on a sneak in the third quarter, Belmont answered when Wilder and Calahan teamed up on a 36-yard touchdown pass with 5:25 left. A two-point conversion — Wilder completing to Reggie Gardner — completed the scoring.
“This was our Homecoming game and we won,” Calahan said afterward. “Everyone I love was in the stands. Nothing is better than all that.”
But after the bus ride from Welcome Stadium back to Belmont, he sounded as if he were amending that thought. Or, at least, adding to it:
“The bus ride was lit. We had the music on. We had a ball. We celebrated.
“Man … that’s what it’s all about.”