HERSHEY - Imhotep Charter head coach Albie Crosby stood before his team - his face chafed by the bitter cold and wind that whipped through Hersheypark Stadium all day - while his players took knees and held back tears.
After the Panthers lost, 41-0, in yesterday's PIAA Class AA championship game against South Fayette, Crosby's message was clear.
"I know this thing hurts," he said. "I don't have a problem with anybody crying. That means you gave it everything you had."
The balance of the game, however, was decided by South Fayette's precision on both sides vs. slew of Imhotep penalties that stifled any opportunity for momentum.
"We always talk about if we do the small things the big things follow," Crosby said after the game. "And, for us today, we had some things go against us early that we didn't do a good job of overcoming."
The Panthers (12-3) finished with 16 penalties, help that South Fayette (16-0) didn't need on a record-tying/setting day.
South Fayette, from McDonald, 18 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, was led by junior quarterback Brett Brumbaugh who orchestrated a quick-hitting offense that spread the field, scored quickly and had enough muscle to wear down the Panthers' defense.
Brumbaugh tied a AA championship game record with three touchdown passes. He also threw for 270 yards (16-for-23) and in the process broke the single-season Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League passing record held by his older brother Christian, who was in attendance.
Senior wide receiver Justin Watson added six catches for 126 yards and two scoring grabs, which tied another championship game record.
"We don't really like to think about records, but looking back on this a couple years from now, it'll sink in that's something special we did," Brett Brumbaugh said. "We're going to be able to reminisce the rest of our lives."
Short crossing routes and out-patterns spread the Panthers' offense and negated its north-south speed. Brumbaugh consistently threw passes just before his receivers made their breaks.
"We saw on film that they had great athletes and were very aggressive and we knew we could take advantage of that," Watson said. "We just knew we had to be crisp with everything we did to be able to work our passing game."
However, precision wasn't needed when Brumbaugh hit Logan Sharp for a 53-yard score down the right sideline on an apparent blown coverage that made it 14-0 with 5:15 left in the first frame.
The Lions' first drive, a 14-play, 64-yard march, was helped by three Imhotep encroachment penalties. The first Brumbaugh-Watson connection made it 7-0 after a 6-yard pass and extra point.
"We just never got in sync," Crosby said. "In football, or any sport, when you're in a rhythm you're good, but when you're out of rhythm you're trying to fight to find it."
Twelve first-half penalties for 47 yards ensured that wouldn't happen. Imhotep mustered just 50 yards on 21 first-half carries. The Panthers netted just 23 yards on 31 carries for the game. Aaron Ruff, a senior offensive lineman, went down in the first half with a shoulder injury.
In stark contrast, the Lions had a 35-0 advantage by halftime, which tied the most points scored in a AA finale.
Imhotep punted on its first five possessions. The sixth was a pick-6 returned 46 yards by Conner Beck just 28 seconds before halftime. Imhotep junior quarterback Andre Dreuitt-Parks went 8-for-18 for 125 yards.
Save for an interception and turnover on downs, the Lions scored on every possession.
Defensively, Imhotep's Tyrone Barge and Shaka Toney each recorded sacks, while senior safety Deandre Scott claimed an interception. South Fayette's JJ Walker had two sacks, and also had a late rushing TD.
Even when the Panthers' offense mustered a drive to open the third quarter, they were stopped on fourth down from the 1 after starting first-and-goal from the 2.
The Lions turned that stand into a 16-play, 99-yard scoring drive punctuated by a Grant Fetchet (15-58) 9-yard score that sybmbolized South Fayette's dominance.
"I could sit back and complain about this and that," Crosby said. "But ultimately, when you get your butt kicked, you get your butt kicked."
Despite the disappointment, Crosby hopes the loss is just a step in a championship process.
"Every situation is an opportunity," he said. "And, you learn from it. We went to the state semifinals last year and I believe we learned from that. This year, we went to the state finals, and hopefully we can learn from this."