Running back Brian Brown broke his collarbone in Paul VI's season-opening 31-14 loss to Pennsauken, but the real agony came two days later during his visit to the doctor.

"There wasn't that much pain with the injury," Brown recalled. "The pain hit when I was told by the doctors that I was out for the season."

One could imagine how crushed Brown was. At 5-foot-5 and 160 pounds, he is among the toughest players in South Jersey pound for pound. He had an impressive touchdown run before getting injured against Pennsauken and was in line for a big season.

Brown kept holding out hope and finally got cleared to return to practice Monday. On Wednesday, he was back on the field, playing a key role in Paul VI's 34-19 win over rival Camden Catholic in a game matching teams with 0-9 records.

"It just felt great," Brown said after the game. "I am blessed to play my last game."

The game showed the positive presence high school sports can be in participants' lives. It was two 0-9 teams playing extremely hard, as if they were playoff-bound.

Both teams fought through plenty of adversity this season.

Camden Catholic saw most of the key players from an 8-2 team transfer after the well-documented firing of coach Nick Strom. Then his replacement, Cody Hall, lasted seven games before resigning.

While the players on Camden Catholic won't look back fondly on their 0-10 record, they can tale great pride in the fact that they stuck it out, played one final game in front of a huge crowd on a chilly Wednesday night, and didn't give up in the game or in the entire season.

"This year has been full of adversity, but the most important thing is we want to give thanks to our support system, the faculty, families, and coaches for sticking it out with the guys," Camden Catholic interim coach Gary Onuekwusi said. "We had to be positive throughout the year, and we tried to do our best."

Camden Catholic’s Trey Thorpe had several big runs in a 34-19 loss to Paul VI on Wednesday.
Marc Narducci
Camden Catholic’s Trey Thorpe had several big runs in a 34-19 loss to Paul VI on Wednesday.

That isn't always easy, especially since the Irish, who were 8-2 and a division champion last year, entered the game having been outscored by 408-26.

"The kids learned there is going to be adversity and you have to overcome adversity," Onuekwusi said.

On the other sideline, the message was the same. Paul VI was coming off a 5-5 season and the Eagles were optimistic. But injuries hurt a team that was short on depth.

"This year was a character-building year for us, and I tell the guys: Are you going to lay down, or are you going to roll out and keep plugging away?" Paul VI coach Glenn Hutton said. "I tell the guys that you will remember this and transfer it to life, so when things get tough in life, you are not going to quit."

Of course, it is much better to learn lessons through winning, but not all  teams get that luxury.

Brown said it was so frustrating not being able to contribute, which made his return even more exhilarating. He even ended in a familiar place in the first quarter — the end zone — after a 4-yard run for  the first score of the game.

"It felt good," said Brown, who rushed for 81 yards on 25 carries and the one score. "I missed being there."

He meant the end zone, but also could have been referring to being on the field.

"I will remember this game for the rest of my life," he said.

So will the Camden Catholic players. Both teams, after all, stuck it out during hard times.