COLUMBIA - The bedlam died down at Williams-Brice Stadium, and the Greenwood High School football team's wait for a coronation had begun.
It was a wait that went on for more than 48 minutes of regulation - the Eagles outlasted Northwestern 31-24 in overtime Saturday to win the Class AAAA, Division II state championship. It was also a wait for the seniors that lasted more than three years.
It was a wait that encompassed exhilarating highs - previous trips to the 2010 and '11 state championship games. And also, excruciating lows - losses both times.
But Saturday, as the program was about to receive its 14th state championship trophy, the seniors were caught in the moment. No longer were they dragged down by the past, where they came oh-so-close to the ultimate glory - only to come up oh-so-short
"This is the epitome of what every athlete wants, to go out on a good note," senior Eagles center Daniel Darling said. "And it couldn't have been more dramatic. After those years of not winning it, you just want to start bawling."The seniors can walk away as champions. They can also walk away with 50 career victories, three region championships and the first 15-win season in the tradition-laden history of Eagles football.
Talk about a class act.
For a year that could not have ended any better, Saturday's state championship game could not have been scripted any better. And that's because many seniors played a huge role. Eagles senior linebacker Davon Durant deflected a Northwestern pass that was intercepted by sophomore Kaleb Chalmers, which led to a Greenwood touchdown drive. Senior quarterback Evin Sims scored two touchdowns, and senior kicker Matt McManis added a field goal.
"If you're going to get here multiple times, you're going to have to ride the back of some pretty big horses," Greenwood coach Gene Cathcart said. "And our seniors stepped up and made some great plays."
Every high school senior who plays sports wants a state championship. But perhaps no one was more driven for those players to have rings more than Cathcart. Cathcart, who experienced winning state titles at Greenwood in the past as an assistant, saw these players as more than just seniors.
They represent his era as a head coach.
After all, they were gearing up for practice as freshmen when Cathcart took over as the program's replacement for the retired Shell Dula.
Just as a parent crosses the moment his or her child is about to leave for the next stage in life, Cathcart went through the similar pain, referring to that throughout the second half of the season.
Cathcart hit on that even more in the playoffs.
And now, he can watch them walk away, ready to size their fingers for state championship rings.
"My vision of this would be to just disappear and watch them celebrate and jump on each other, and hug up on each other and love up on each other," Cathcart said. "And I would be invisible, like I had nothing to do with it, like I could be just the window dressing in the back. I'd just have a small, small part. Like, I'd just make sure the bus has gas in it."
And because of Cathcart's will to win a ring for his seniors, his seniors wanted even more to win a ring for him.
"(Cathcart) wanted it so bad for us, but we wanted it so bad for him," Durant said. "And not just for him, but for the teams that didn't get it done. He said, 'If you want to get the job done, you're going to have to fight."
And there was no better test of will than Greenwood's stirring 20-play, 97-yard play that lasted for more than 10 minutes. When you're facing fourth down inside the Trojans' 10-yard line, knowing if you don't convert you're bracing for an all-out Northwestern passing attack, it takes a senior to make the play.
And Sims did just that, scrambling from the 9 for a touchdown.
That's the kind of trust you put in a senior when you're a coach. And when you're willing to make those plays, it's a sign you're ready for the moment.
And when the Eagles hoisted that state championship trophy, it was indeed all about the moment.
"We're champions," Sims said. "That's all I can think about. We're state champions."
Every season has a story. And every story has its share of twists and turns that define it.
From McManis' 60-yard field goal off a tee against Woodmont to junior Thomas Turner rallying the Eagles to victory when Sims was out with a slight concussion, every chapter in this Greenwood football story ended perfectly.
"That's fairy tale; that's all," someone near the Greenwood celebration could be overheard saying.
All the perfect endings seem that way.
Chancey is sports editor at the Index-Journal. Contact him at 223-1813; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @IJSCOTTCHANCEY . Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper's opinion.