MERIDIAN - The 5A State Championship Game.
The biggest stage imaginable for a Idaho prep football player.
"I love you guys to death," Mountain View head coach Judd Benedict told his players in the locker room prior to kickoff. "I wouldn't want to go to battle with any other team."
According to doctors, Mountain View senior Keenan Pattwell wasn't supposed to be here.
Not this season.
Not on this field.
"To be honest, we didn't and he didn't know if he was going to get the opportunity to play football again," Benedict recalled.
But you see, this is a kid who's got guts, something he's reminded of each and every day.
Pattwell has long loved the game of football. Growing up in a single-parent household, he dealt with the pressures of being a father figure to his little brother.
But the football field is where he found his escape.
"That's my passion," Keenan said. "It's always been my getaway from everything."
"It's his release. It's his freedom," said Keenan's mom, Kasandra.
Not only did he love game, but he was good at it. He was all-league as a junior at Mountain View in 2015, and was ready to be the go-to-guy as a senior in 2016.
While gearing up for his final season of high school ball though, Keenan developed a gut feeling that something was wrong.
"It's definitely the worst stomach ache I've ever had it my life," he recalled.
"I said maybe you have the stomach flu," said Kasandra. "But as the days went on, pain would increase."
In the span of week, Keenan lost almost 30 pounds. And following what was supposed to be a routine trip to the bathroom, he was blindsided him with news that would reveal his most daunting opponent yet.
"It seemed like four ounces of blood came out. So I rushed him to the ER," Kasandra explained. "They did some tests and doctors explained that Keenan had unclassified IBD; either severe Crohn's disease or severe ulcerative colitis. (The doctor) said that Keenan showed severe signs on both."
"Crazy enough, I was watching TV one time, and I saw a commercial. They have those commercials about the medicines and stuff like that," Keenan said. "I saw it and I was like, 'man, that would be terrible.'"
"I look and I didn't even have it yet," he continued. "A couple years later, I vividly remember that. And I have it now."
The news was as scary as it is unsettling. The combination of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis - a condition in which your colon is lined with ulcers - is something that can be treated, but not cured.
Quickly, doctors advised him give up the game he loves, so that his body could heal.
But for Keenan, that simply wasn't an option.
"No. Nothing was going to keep me from playing football," Keenan demanded.
So, Keenan and his mom, Kasandra, began searching for answers.
They were informed of the SCD diet.
"He can't have any grains," said Kasandra. "No sugars of any kinds. If I get something wrong he can get sick."
It's a satisfying, yet unsavory and expensive way to help put him in a position to play, and be around the family he needed.
"Being with my guys on the football team, there's no feeling like playing with your brothers," said Keenan.
It turned out to be the best remedy they could find. Recognizing the burden that was unexpectedly forced upon the Pattwells.
"The coaches came along and said, 'hey, we want to help out," explained Kasandra. "We want to make lunches for Keenan.'"
"They know how it's a struggle for me and my mom," added Keenan," so they would help bring lunches for me, so I could eat."
So the Mountain View coaching staff offered to take something off their plates, while putting something on one at the same time.
"The coaches would all alternate weeks, and make him organic SCD food every day for lunch," Kasandra said.
"With Keenan, you can't help but not want to help the guy, because he does everything off the field right. His character and his attitude is impeccable," coach Benedict explained. "And when we heard that he was kind of struggling - it was we've got to do, whatever we can to help this guy."
Keenan's stomach issues were as unpredictable as any opponent he's ever battled.
"I would leave practice probably five times," Keenan said, "sprinting to the bathroom, my body was in such pain."
Outside of those spontaneous urges, another challenge he faces come each and every night.
"I have no trouble falling asleep, but it's staying asleep is a big problem. I either wake up in the middle of the night and my stomach is bothering me, or I'll have to get up and go to the bathroom," said Keenan. "It's just a cycle that will happen."
It's a cycle that always impacts the next day.
"I wake up, I take it hour-by-hour," Keenan explained. "At school, I take it period-by-period. Because I never know when my energy levels are just going to drop because I've used all of it already."
To no surprise, Keenan is a kid that can dig down deeper than most.
"I think the average person doesn't really know what that means? 'Leave it all out of the field.' I think most of us in our minds think we did," Benedict said.
This season, through the all pain, he didn't miss a game. And when it was gut-check time, the ball always seemed to find him.
"When you see Keenan and he's doubled over in pain, he's literally leaving it all out there," Benedict continued. "He's probably the toughest person - not just kid - but the toughest person I've ever met."
In the state semifinals, with Mountain View trailing undefeated Eagle late in the fourth quarter, fittingly, Keenan hauled in the game-winning touchdown.
"You're trying to get kids to believe in each other, to believe in toughness, to believe that they can do anything, overcome obstacles," Benedict said. "That was a perfect example of someone who was not going to be denied."
"He goes out and makes plays, and not just regular plays, but amazing plays," he added.
What could've been the missing link between them and a victory, helped get them here on Saturday, the program's third consecutive trip to the 5A State Championship Game.
What happened next shouldn't surprise you, but it will likely overwhelm you.
Pattwell, the kid wasn't suppose to here - not this season, not on this field - went out and set the 11-man state scoring record. He totaled up six of his team's seven touchdowns, as Mountain View won the program's first-ever 5A state championship.
Revealed in it all, are guts that led to the glory of this champion.
"If you watched today, you just knew that he was not going to be denied, that nobody was going to stop him," said Benedict. "And that's how he lived his life the last year. No one was going to stop him. No one was going to tell him he couldn't play."
"Just through this whole experience, playing through this season, in the end, I'll be able to do anything I want to," Keenan said after the game. "Just being able to push through and deal with adversity whenever it comes my way."
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