HERSHEY, Pa. - A win-filled and highlight-lined campaign for Archbishop Wood came to an end on a cold and windswept night in a town known for its sweet chocolate and fun-packed amusement park.
Afterward, with tears flowing and heads hanging in the losing locker room, second-year coach Steve Devlin and his assistants did their best to console the teenagers responsible for a glorious run to the PIAA Class AAA state championship game.
It wasn't easy. A fumble on the opening kickoff, three interceptions and a couple of blown pass coverages left the Vikings feeling as if they didn't put forth their best effort in Friday's 34-7 loss to Thomas Jefferson at HersheyPark Stadium.
It may take a while, but the players will realize the accomplishments to savor: a 12-3 record, a stretch of five consecutive shutouts, a Catholic League Division AAA title, a city-title win over Dobbins, and a hard-fought victory against Selinsgrove to advance to the final, among other achievements.
Devlin, 37, was aware of all that even before the Vikings took the field to play the high-powered and bigger Jaguars.
"We had a great year, a great run," he said, just before boarding a chartered bus headed back toward Philadelphia. "I love these kids to death."
Thomas Jefferson (15-1) rushed 56 times for 338 yards. The District 7 school, located about 10 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, turned three of Archbishop Wood's four turnovers into scores. The Vikings, normally potent on offense, were limited to 108 rushing yards on 30 attempts.
Devlin chose not to dissect the X's and O's of what led to a 27-point setback, his team's first loss since a 28-17 defeat vs. former Catholic League Blue Division rival West Catholic way back in Week No. 5.
"The most disappointing thing was that we lost," Devlin said. "I'll never get a chance to coach these seniors again."
And what a senior group it was. The two Seans, McCartney and Cunningham. Adam Citko, a 6-foot-5, 325-pound stalwart lineman. Fullback-linebacker Nick Devine. Two-way end Anthony Narisi. And the list goes on.
McCartney rushed for 74 yards on 16 tries against the Jaguars, but completed only 9 of 23 passes for 100 yards and was intercepted three times. Cunningham, a bullish runner, was limited to 34 yards on 12 carries.
Devine was one of the leaders on defense. On one of his three second-quarter tackles, he trapped quarterback Tyler Wehner (8 for 13 passing, 156 yards, three TDs) behind the line for a 3-yard loss.
As Devlin pointed out, few expected the Vikings to come within 48 minutes of statewide glory.
Talk in August of potential champions from the Catholic League, in its first year as a full-fledged PIAA member, focused on West Catholic and, at the AAAA level, St. Joseph's Prep.
"For a lot of people that said we weren't very good, we got pretty far," the coach said.