FAYETTEVILLE — The scoreboard at Junction City went dark just before the start of the 1999 playoff game against Shiloh Christian.
Probably a good thing it did. It couldn’t have kept up with the blur of scoring changes that occurred seemingly every few seconds during the game.
Shiloh Christian’s 70-64 win that night is regarded by many as the greatest high school football game ever played in Arkansas. And even if the scoreboard didn’t offer proof, those who witnessed the epic clash will never forget it.
Cole McNair certainly can’t forget it. He was right in the middle of it.
“It was interesting even before it began, actually, going down to that side of the state,” McNair says now. “The power went out before the game began, so we had to go back in the locker room. Coach (Gus) Malzahn told us to not let it bother us, to just relax and remember what we came here to do.”
The Saints got run over by Junction City’s Marcus Godfrey right off the bat. Godfrey had almost 200 yards rushing — on his first four carries of the game — and the Dragons surged ahead 51-35 at halftime and appeared headed to a blowout win over the much-hyped Saints.
But Malzahn and his team never panicked. They just kept passing and passing as then sophomore quarterback Rhett Lashlee kept finding McNair over and over again.
“Coach Malzahn always stressed that games are won in the third and fourth quarters,” McNair said. “And we were in great shape.”
By the time the game ended via an official’s whistle and not a scoreboard horn, the Saints had rallied back from a three-touchdown deficit. McNair finished the game with 16 catches for 257 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner.
The Saints, who were 44-1 in McNair’s career, went on to cap a second consecutive 15-0 season with the 2A state title. McNair finished the season with 87 catches for 1,691 yards and 23 touchdowns, which at the time was one of the best seasons ever for a receiver.
McNair went from Shiloh Christian to Tulsa, where he stayed for two years, playing mostly on special teams as a redshirt freshman.
“It was just completely different,” McNair said of his time with the Golden Hurricanes. “It was a different ballgame.”
He returned to Northwest Arkansas and completed his degree at the University of Arkansas.
Then his life took a completely different path. His interest in the culinary arts led him to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., where he spent seven years as a student and a teacher, traveling to six different cities.
But he missed his hometown of Fayetteville and longed to return.
“Growing up here, I couldn’t wait to get away,” he says now. “Then I realized how great this place was and this was where I wanted to settle down and raise a family.”
He got married May 10 to Caroline Smith and now works as a producer for his family’s business, McNair and Associates in Fayetteville.
McNair said, even as a prep player, the players at Shiloh Christian knew Malzahn was destined for greatness.
“We knew he was special,” McNair said. “He was very driven, very innovative, very intense. He prepared like a madman.”