They were 3-3 after six games.
They trailed by 24-0 at halftime of their second tournament game.
But on Saturday night, Shawnee completed one of the most remarkable seasons in the history of the program with a 31-22 victory over Timber Creek in the South Jersey Group 4 championship game at Rowan University.
Senior Anthony DiOrio ran for 140 yards, junior Jake Parola scored two touchdowns, and sophomore Mike Welsh fired a pair of TD passes for sixth-seeded Shawnee (9-3), the No. 6 team in The Inquirer's South Jersey rankings.
"These kids just believed," Shawnee coach Tim Gushue said. "I told the seniors during our dinner tonight, 'Leave a legacy. You've already written the book. Now do the epilogue.' "
It was a wild scene on the Rowan turf after the game as Shawnee players celebrated with students who had charged the field after the victory on a bitterly cold night.
Shawnee senior Joe Lynn and Omar Anis embraced and fell to the ground. Players lifted the championship trophy in the air. Moments later, Gushue was doused with ice water as he addressed the team.
"These kids just believe they can overcome insurmountable obstacles," Gushue said.
Senior Dan Williams was 25-for-50 passing for 343 yards and three touchdowns for No. 5 Timber Creek (10-2), the No. 1 seed and two-time defending champion.
Williams finished his senior season with 3,540 yards, a state record. The old mark was 3,504 yards by Ryan Carty of Somerville in 2001.
"They had a great game plan," Timber Creek coach Rob Hinson said of Shawnee. "I told our kids, 'If we're at our best and they're at their best, we have a good chance to win the ball game.'
"They were at their best and we weren't at our best, and they deserved to win the game."
Shawnee got great work from its defense, which was led by linebacker Curtis Corley and cornerbacks David Smith and Nick Corbi, who recorded interceptions.
"Our secondary brought it," Gushue said. "That was as physical as we've played all year."
Shawnee burst to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. The Renegades received a 43-yard TD run from Parola and a 38-yard field goal from Lynn.
Timber Creek answered as Williams hit Cameron Chambers with a 33-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 10-6.
That set a pattern: Shawnee surged in front, and Timber Creek responded.
The Renegades built leads of 17-6 and 24-14, but each time, the Chargers closed the gap.
"What a great team," Gushue said of Timber Creek. "I saw them against Kingsway [in a semifinal], and I was like, 'Whoa.' "
In the end, Shawnee found a way to make one last stop, with Rhett Saltiel tackling Williams 2 yards short of a first down on a fourth and 12 with 3 minutes, 33 seconds left.
The Renegades sealed the win as DiOrio broke off runs of 16 and 18 yards to set up Parola's second TD, from 3 yards.
"He was possessed," Gushue said of DiOrio. "He's one of a kind."
Shawnee 10 7 7 7 – 31
Timber Creek 0 14 0 8 – 22
S: Jake Parola 43 run (Joe Lynn kick)
S: FG Joe Lynn 38
TC: Cameron Chambers 33 pass from Dan Williams (pass failed)
S: Anthony DiOrio 4 pass from Mike Welsh (Lynn kick)
TC: Alan Butler 3 pass from Williams (Adonis Jennings pass from Williams)
S: Brandon Bye 84 pass from Welsh (Lynn kick)
TC: Chambers 9 pass from Williams (Jennings pass from Williams)
S: Parola 3 run (Lynn kick)