Matt Schuckman column sig

Maybe the excitement of a last-second, game-winning, record-breaking field goal was the adrenaline Paul Petty needed to get him through a seven-hour road trip in the middle of the night.

What awaited him at the end of such a journey was motivation enough.

Petty, the Pittsfield football coach, guided the Saukees to a 39-36 victory over New Berlin in which his nephew, JJ Petty, kicked a 43-yard field goal with less than two seconds remaining. It was the longest field goal in program history and elicited quite a celebration along the Pittsfield sideline.

After the postgame hullabaloo simmered and the coaching staff cleaned up the field and the locker room, Petty and his wife, Gretchen, loaded up their vehicle and headed for Tiffin, Ohio.

Seeing their son earn his first collegiate start in a remarkable return to the football field was worth every minute of sleep they lost.

Noah Petty, a freshman offensive lineman at NCAA Division II Kentucky Wesleyan, hadn’t played football in nearly two years after experiencing cardiac arrest during a camp at Illinois State University in June 2019. It cost him his senior season and left him with limited college options even though doctors cleared him to return to the field.

The schools recruiting him before the cardiac event stepped back, leaning on advice of their own medical staffs.

“They didn’t think it was in their best interest to clear me to play,” Noah said.

Then one of the coaches on the Kentucky Wesleyan staff called Paul Petty to discuss any potential recruits for the Class of 2021.

“My father told them he still had a 2020 senior available,” Noah said. “I was lucky enough for them to give me a call and give me a chance. I’m very happy for that.”

The Panthers have given him more than a chance.

They’ve put him right into the fray.

Although Petty didn’t play in Kentucky Wesleyan’s first two games, but last week, he was told he would be starting at right tackle as the Panthers faced Tiffin in a Great Midwest Athletic Conference matchup in Tiffin, Ohio. He let his parents know immediately.

“With COVID right now, you have to but your tickets ahead of time and they can sell out,” Noah said. “When I called them, they were all for coming right away, tickets or not or standing at the gate. That was awesome. They are a great support system, especially my father. Absolutely it was amazing.”

So last Saturday, nearly 22 months after he collapsed on the field at Hancock Stadium and had to be life-flighted to Carle Hospital in Champaign, Ill., the 6-foot-5, 275-pound freshman wearing No. 75 lined uop at right tackle and proved beyond a reasonable doubt he was healthy.

“I went two years without it,” Noah said. “Being back is definitely something I’ve been waiting for.”

It alleviated all fears he would never make it back.

“Absolutely,” Noah said. “I missed my senior year, and that’s a big amount of playing time. Coming right back into it at this level is not easy. So, yeah, there was a doubt for sure.”

There were also nerves any college freshman feels.

“I didn’t want to make any mistakes, but obviously mistakes come with your first game,” Petty said. “But, yes, I was definitely nervous.”

Maybe so, but he didn’t show it.

There was a calm born of the desire to be in that position and the determination to prove doubters wrong.

“I always had a side of me that didn’t want to believe the doctors, and I didn’t believe the doctors,” Noad said. “I kept pushing to know and to think I was healthy. To finally get the chance to go to Mayo Clinic and get cleared and know I could go right back into sports was amazing.”

The sensation of being on the field with his entire support system watching made it complete. His parents were in the stands and his older brothers watched the livestream despite the time differences – one lives in Hawaii and the other lives in Japan.

“That was pretty special for them to do that,” Noah said.

No one wanted to miss this magical moment, especially those who have walked this unique journey alongside him.

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