Hillsdale is a typical Midwestern town whose high school has a rich football tradition and a favorite eatery, The Cabin. After a long, successful career, Coach Ben Reynolds' plans to retire after the upcoming season get interrupted when the State Athletic Association, under the direction of newly named assistant Jason Stone, investigates Reynolds over allegations that he illegally recruited a player from Willow Brook High School, Jack Norton.
Bubba Brown, whose son Brad had fumbled in a critical playoff game the year before when he had lived in Hillsdale, has moved his son to nearby Valley Forge because he blamed Reynolds for not naming his son co-captain for the upcoming season. Valley Forge is the opening game for Hillsdale, and Brown feels the best way for his son to get a scholarship is to beat Hillsdale and get even with Reynolds.
As the investigation continues through the summer, Bubba suddenly returns to Hillsdale one morning to The Cabin to taunt the patrons. When he insults his waitress, Rachel Sawyer, and then Coach Reynolds, his breakfast is dumped on his lap by Jeff Fairchild, a member of the Hillsdale team and a cook at The Cabin. The embarrassed Brown leaves and gets involved in a hit-and-run accident with Coach Reynolds' wife, Julie.
Reynolds is then faced with the challenges of his wife's recovery, the rumors and innuendos regarding the Norton situation. Also, despite the evidence collected by Stone, the State's decision forces him to watch the opening game from behind the fence, making him wonder if everything he has worked for has been worth it, while Bubba Brown sits in the Valley Forge bleachers cheering his son. The result of this opening game provides a huge impact on the coach's future.