Win or lose,Fridaynight's football game against Linden was going to be bittersweet for the Summerville Bears.
The 17-7 outcome at Thorsted Field was not the preferred score for the Bears, but that did not stop Summerville from celebrating all the hard work it put in this season.
Afterwards, for nearly 20 minutes, coaches congratulated players, and Summerville players met with friends, family and teammates as tears slowly dropped down on a few Bears' faces.
"It was a rough senior night," said Summerville co-captain Daniel Kristofic. "It's a gut-wrenching feeling. You dedicate three whole years to this sport, to the team, to your brothers on the field, and there's never going to be anything like it ever again. I'll always remember my time here."
Linden barely out-gained Summerville 259-252 on offense. And on defense, the Bears ripped out three fumbles and recovered two.
The Bears converted 16 first downs to the Lions eight, but when it mattered, Summerville could not punch in a much-needed score. With four trips to the red zone, only one drive turned into points.
"We came out slow," said Bears head coach Ben Watson. "We just could not get it going on offense. I thought Linden did a pretty good job, but we had spaces to run the ball. We had angles on our blocking schemes. We had people open. We had some drops. Some passes a little bit off target. We had a really good running scheme going. Running backs missing holes. It just seemed like nothing went our way. We just couldn't get anything consistently going on offense. That was really frustrating."
Down 14-0 at halftime, the Bears seized control early in the third quarter when Summerville swarmed Lions quarterback Eddie Murarik, forcing him to cough up the ball.
After a brief scramble, Summerville recovered the ball at the Bear 20.
"It was exciting, Linden's really good at running the ball and the option," said Bear senior linebacker Erik Wold. "Just noticing that we can rip and punch out the ball to force a turnover is great because it can change the game."
Summerville quarterback Bryce Farrell directed the offense on an 8-play, 80-yard drive that he capped off with a 5-yard touchdown keeper. Wide receiver Andrew Brennan sprung Farrell free with a devastating block on the edge.
Farrell's extra point sliced the Lions' lead in half, 14-7.
Playing inspired football on senior night, the Summerville defense forced Linden to a three-and-out on its very next possession.
But Linden's Eric Gardea blasted a beautiful punt that perfectly rolled dead at the Bear 1.
With their backs pinned against the wall, the Bears turned the ball over to the Lions on their first play at the 12-yard line.
Still, that had no effect on the Summerville defense.
Again, the Bears throttled Linden's rushing attack for a second straight time. On four rushing plays, the Lions gained just 9 yards and were forced to give the ball right back.
"That defensive stand right there kept us in it," Watson said. "They bent, but didn't break too much. I was really happy with coach (Darcy) Wingo and coach (Matt) Soto and the scheme on defense. I thought it was outstanding. They did a really good job of bottling them up. They did everything they could to give our offense an opportunity. They gave the offense an opportunity, and we just didn't get it done."
And it stayed that way.
Two pass completions to Brennan gave the Bears a first down at the Bear 15. But the offense did not generate enough to move the ball and had to punt at its own 23-yard line.
"We justdidn't execute," Farrell said. "Every play, it was just one thing or another. It was a bad pass. A dropped ball. It was a sack from bad blocking. But we got there. From about the 20 to the 20, we were great. Once, it came to the red zone, we couldn't get the final punch. It was close. We were close enough. It's tough knowing that you were so close. We just didn't play well enough to win."
After the punt, Linden turned to The Wildcat formation near midfield.
The Lions ran it 11 straight times for 43 yards and three first downs.
But with Summerville playing stout all night, Linden settled for a 25-yard field goal to cushion its lead to 17-7 with3:27in the fourth quarter.
A Bear turnover late in the final minutes doomed Summerville's chances of a comeback.
However, despite the bitter defeat, for Wold, this game and this season is something that will not be soon forgotten.
"I'm going to miss the smell of the grass," Wold said. "The camaraderie with my teammates. The coaches giving me advice. Hearing the band and crowd cheering and shouting for us, and the cheerleaders making those awesome banners for us to run through in the tunnel. And those niceFridaynight lights."