It's been two years since they won again. Three, if you count conference games. They've played their hearts out all year, and just don't have the size or the talent to keep up with the bigger teams, the teams loaded with future D-1 stars and running backs that run like freight trains.
Their town, which has politics like Iraq, seems to be falling apart around them in a civil war of sorts. They get berated for losing by parents hiding behind screen names, and they get angry yells from fathers who decide that they are sideline coaches.
But on this night, they are champions. I have run the field with them over and over this year as their drives succeed, as their drives fail They get stymied in the run game, and interceptions are thrown on fourth downs into the end zone.
But it doesn't get them down. They keep at it. And when a game changing interception gets run back for a touchdown, their sideline erupts and they have hope again. They put their heads down, and they win.
Their quarterback's father died this week. He was a young guy in his 40's who coached many of the players in their youth football days, stricken and taken by a vengeful God in an instance. At 17, this quarterback went to his father's funeral, and was asked, on the same day, to bring his team to victory after a two-year losing stretch.
And as those kids (that's all they are, for all the papers talk about them. Just kids)- as they stormed the field in jubilant celebration, soaking their coach in a gatorade shower and cheering and crying because they finally won, the guy doing the chains drops the first down marker and tells me with a smile, "You see? This is why they play this stupid games...for moments like this."
And when they carried that quarterback off the field on their shoulder pads, tears streaming down his lean face, I know that the only thing that this kid could think of is, "I wish my dad could see this."
It is staggeringly beautiful in that heartbreaking sort of way that only sports and wars can achieve. I can feel my eyes getting damp, and this may as well have been the Super Bowl. I try to interview the quarterback, but when I do, I can barely think of a question that doesn't sound trivial compared to what this kid has gone through in the last week.
All I can do is shake his hand, and hope that that's enough.