All but one set of lights at Hamilton’s stadium was turned off Friday night, but the players and coaches in the Desert Vista team huddle were not taking the hint.
They were going to finish the task at hand.
The season ended with a 28-14 defeat to No. 3 Hamilton as the Huskies controlled the game from the outset with a 14-0 second-quarter lead and a 28-7 third-quarter lead.
The sixth-seeded Thunder finished the season at 9-3 and had plenty of self-inflicted mishaps to help the Huskies, who are doing just fine on their own as they enter next Friday’s semifinals with a 10-game winning streak.
It wasn’t a great way to end the season — a loss never is —especially coming off of a state championship the year before.
Regardless, there were indicators — despite the four turnovers on offense, having a punt blocked and blown coverages on defense — of what the Thunder program stands for throughout the game.
It began before the kickoff when senior linemen Zack Tamburo taped and braced a severe ankle sprain to play a position that requires leverage, helped immensely by great footing, to play his first game in a month.
“We weren’t going to just sit back and let it end badly,” Tamburo said. “There was no way I was going to sit this game out. We don’t quit; we don’t give up.”
But it was most evident as the clock slowly ended the careers of the seniors and the season for everyone else. They couldn’t do much about it in the end, but it was never evident in their approach.
After a crushing missed fourth down attempt on the goal line that would have brought Desert Vista to within one possession, the Huskies’ Frankie Felix broke a couple of tackles and bounced to the outside with an apparent clear path toward a 97-yard score.
Only one defender could have stopped him and Austin Hicks did just that. The senior cornerback, starting from the opposite side of the field, took the right angle, never lost stride and forced Felix out of bounds at the Thunder 20.
If there was any letup — one second of doubt — Hicks doesn’t make that stop and Hamilton tacks on another score.
“We are never going to give up ground and we were going to go down fighting,” Hicks said. “We are going to bust our butts on every play. That’s what we were taught when we entered the program and that never changes.”
After Hamilton gave up the ball on downs, junior tight end Jordan Rezac caught a couple of passes in the center of the defense and turned up field despite the fact that the Hamilton defense had free shots at him with the game all but over.
“He kept fighting for more,” Desert Vista coach Dan Hinds said.
Finally, once the team huddle dispersed, postgame Jimmy Jacks were performed one last time and the players, mostly the seniors, began to breakdown, shed some tears and hugged it out.
They took off their pads, sat on the field in order to soak up whatever time they had left in the Thunder uniform and began the process of reflecting.
What they will most likely come to understand is that there is nothing like playing a season as the defending champions.
There are undue pressures inside and outside of the program that are more difficult to deal with than anyone realized. There’s always a comparison, as much as the players and coaches deny it.
“It was the first I’ve ever gone through that,” Hinds said of trying to repeat. “All I can say, right now, is that it was different. I have to reflect a little bit more. There are always pressures but this was something different.”
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