On Friday night, the DAR High School football team retired a teammate's jersey number and released balloons in his honor as they took the field without him, hours after his sudden death.
Eli Spray, 18, died in a car crash on his way to school Friday morning. Authorities say the car he was driving collided with a tow truck on Simpson Point Road. Spray died on impact.
The Spray family was side by side the football team as they remembered Eli, tears running down everyone's faces. It didn't matter if you were rooting for DAR or Brindlee Mountain, it was all about Eli. There was a chance the game never was going to be played.
"Originally we thought about just cancelling the game all together and the parents and grandparents said by all means, Eli would want us to play the game," Joel Poole, DAR football coach, said.
Poole didn't expect to play against Brindlee Mountain Friday night, after one his players suddenly died, hours ago.
Brindlee Mountain heard about what happened soon after.
"It was a shock it was a punch to the gut it was one of those times you didn't know what to think," Coach Keith Garner said.
Prior to kickoff, there was a moment of silence, balloons released, and Eli's jersey, retired.
"We'll take Eli's jersey out for the coin toss and his first cousin plays on the team, he'll walk it out with the seniors to try and honor Eli. It's all about the kids," Poole said.
Hand in hand, teammates, the Spray family, and the Grant community remembered Eli even when the game began. As the DAR Patriots took the field, they were down a player. The team left a hole in the offensive line, Eli played right tackle. It sent the message nobody could replace number 77.
"It's going to be a long process to recover and its going to be difficult for them but you know, kids are resilient," Poole said.
DAR won 43-8 to finish out the regular season.
State troopers are still investigating the crash. No charges have been made.
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