HERSHEY, Pa. - Understandably, it took a long time for Raymond Maples and West Catholic's other senior leaders to gather themselves and their equipment and leave the dingy locker room in the bowels of HersheyPark Stadium.
The catalysts behind the school's best-ever football season were trying, in vain, yesterday to come to grips with a devastating double-overtime loss to Wilmington in a PIAA Class AA championship game they were supposed to win.
And all the chances the Burrs had to leave the Greyhounds in the dust made it even more gut-wrenching for Maples, his teammates, coach Brian Fluck and the West Catholic supporters who had made the trek to Chocolate World.
There was the first and goal from the 5 late in the first half. The even better opportunity, first and goal from the 1, in the closing seconds of regulation. And in the clincher, on the game's final play, the shot at a two-point conversion from the 3.
None of those scoring opportunities panned out, and the Burrs were left to deal with a 35-34 defeat and thoughts of what could have been - or what should have been.
Maples certainly did his part in trying to help boost his team to statewide glory and respectability for the Catholic League, in its first year as a full-fledged PIAA member, and all of District 12.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior halfback carried 19 times for 177 yards and three touchdowns. A strong downhill rusher, he scored on bursts of 28, 4 and 2 yards. It wasn't enough to make up for the blown scoring chances and three turnovers.
"All those stats don't matter if you don't win the game," said Maples, who finished the season with 1,269 rushing yards and 19 TDs.
In the locker room, before heading toward the bus and acknowledging the claps of support, Maples, quarterback Curtis Drake and halfback Rob Hollomon, a stellar three-pronged attack, took part in a group hug.
"I really can't describe this," Maples said. "I love these guys with all my heart. For it to end, especially like this, man, it's tough. I don't know what to say."
On the deciding conversion try, Drake reached the left edge and was tripped up by safety Shane Wagner. He hit the rock-hard turf at the 1. Game over.
"We wanted to bring a title back home to Philadelphia," Fluck said. "But we have nothing to be ashamed of. It was a great season. I told the kids, 'Don't make one game your whole season. Win or lose, walk away with class.' "
The Burrs lost despite outgaining the Greyhounds by 398-194. Led by Maples, Drake (16 carries for 112 yards) and Hollomon (14 for 102), they netted 398 yards on the ground.
Six penalties, for a total of 40 yards, played a part. So, too, did a defense that could not stop Wilmington from three second-half scores, including a 12-play, 82-yard TD drive in the fourth quarter.
It's a shame, in a season filled with record-setting performances from a thrill-a-minute offense, that the final memory will be one of heartbreak - and of Drake and the Burrs falling a yard short of their goal.