The energy Saturday morning was positive. The vibe of Friday night still lingered. The joy of watching our team escorted through our hometowns and sent off to fight for a state title could have been enough. In that moment they were winners despite what the next day’s outcome would bring. They already achieved something no other Warriors that walked the halls before them did.

When we pulled into the parking lot at Hershey stadium the love for these boys, this school, these towns were immediately felt. Men who I remembered being boys dawned their Warrior Pride gear, some even wore vintage jerseys and jackets that made one feel as if they were walking into a time capsule. We were no longer the teenagers walking the halls of the schools, we were now the parents, the aunts and uncles, the grandparents and the fans of the team storming that field.

As we made our way from the parking lot down to the stadium, we could hear the chants of our cheerleaders. They stood outside the stadium wearing their smiles and performing their cheers. They also played a large part in the success of our team. It was their chants that encouraged the crowd which in return pumped up the players. We were all in this together and each of us had roles to play. They picked the appropriate phrase to write on the banner our players burst through. Our tribe. As they rushed through, shredding the banner, hawks soared high above, circling the stadium as if they  were aware that the game about to be played was one to be remembered. Under the blue fall sky, we were banded together in support of our team. We were Warrior Nation.

The afternoon game was chilly but not tortuous. Our bleachers were filled with the young and the old, huddled together, hoping, praying for a good outcome. We swayed to the music and stamped our feet to the motivational tunes played by our loyal band. Nails were bitten, fingers were crossed, and nerves were screaming while we sat, waited, and wondered which team would be the first to score.

The Green and Gold fans gasped as the opposing team reached the goal. When halftime came, a crowd ran to the front of the bleachers to catch a glimpse of the team as they trudged by on their way to regroup. The eyes of the boys walking off the field were filled with rambling thoughts and far away stares. Looking back now, it’s realized that those sullen eyes were seen before, swimming in the depths of the thoughts of the same boys galloping by. The looks were not ones of defeat. Their intense glares were the foreshadows to the resurrection of their team. The comeback kids were rising. An encore that will be talked about for generations to come was moments away from being performed. Together, they were their own army, none of them willing to accept defeat.

The students in the student section cheered their friends and schoolmates on. They wore the players jackets, waved the Warrior flags and painted their favorite players numbers upon their cheeks.   They never stopped believing in the power of their fellow Warriors.

Half time was filled of strategic conversations, “if only they could do this, or maybe they should try this.” Everyone was collectively sending out thoughts and hoping that fate would twist, and our team would end on top.

The second touchdown made by the other Warrior team in the third quarter caused our heads to fall and hearts to stop. Still there was a magic that lingered in the air. A feeling deep in the pit of Warrior Nation that this was not how the story would end. The bus came to a halt when our Quarterback fell. As he clutched his knee we prayed for his healing. Hurt and bloodied he rose from the ground and limped back to the field. Like Daniel in the last scenes of the Karate Kid this soldier of a boy refused to be taken down. And then… the game changed.

A boy with just as much determination, will and fight swooped in like one of the hawks above and caught the ball in flight that was heading towards a different target. A quick decision being hailed as an “immaculate reception,” was the twist of fate no one saw coming and some couldn’t believe.

With eleven minutes left in the game we were on the board and only one touchdown behind. It could be done; it would be done. Our boys rallied together, tackled hard, deflected key passes and ran down that field protecting their brothers.

Our offense raced towards the goal as the football flew above and we all watched with bated breath as the ball fell into the hands of our star receiver. The catch was the momentum that set them in sync. A pack of champions communicating in a language only they could understand. Another trick about to emerge. The six foot plus tight end pretended to go in for a block only to slip away and head to the corner. As he turned, we became aware of what was about to happen. Touchdown! With a mighty kick from the ever-important kicker the ball sailed through the goal post and tied the game.

The nation of Warriors was on their feet. This team, this dynamic, this love for each other, this bond that can never, will never be broken unleashed their power of revival. An amazing thing to be able to witness but could be felt outside of the walls of the stadium as well. Their hometowns exploded with cheers, hugs and sobs of joy. Families and friends who were unable to travel circled their televisions to watch our team claim Victory. But we weren’t on top yet, another touchdown needed to be made with less than minutes to spare.

Another long pass from our resilient QB floated across the sky into the hands of our smooth but fierce receiver but fell one yard short from the goal line. One more huddle, one more plan made before they took their spots and rested their palms to the turf. A shuffle then a collapse of uniforms fell to the ground. The Green and Gold resurfaced with their arms to the air. The third and final touchdown along with history was made, but still, there was time for the opposing team to fight back. The white and blue QB threw his ball into the air landing mid field and closer to their chance to tie up the game. The clock counted down but not fast enough, there was still time for anything to happen. As our boys rushed the QB he threw his football into the air and it was met by the palm of our  6’3 defensive end.

They had one more chance and only one more yard to go but the pack charged in and the opponents were knocked out of bounds before they could move forward. Our fearless QB took his injured knee to the ground and Warrior Nation erupted.

Our heroes became heroes because they weren’t only thinking about themselves. They fought for their friends on the sidelines that endured injuries throughout the season and were unable to play but still showed up to support, coach and encourage them to keep going. They fought for the ones that worked just as hard, sweated just as much and dreamed just as big but didn’t get too many chances to jump into the game. They fought to show the up and coming athletes what it meant to be tough, what it meant to persevere. They battled for their coaches who spent hours, days and months shaping them into the champions they would become. They rallied for their fans both young and old who refused to stop believing. They kept going for their families. They did it, and when they did, they gave each other credit without one of them asking for the glory.

As the celebration on Hershey’s field came to an end and we made our way back to the parking lot, I caught a glimpse of something that summed up who this team was. A line of yellow school busses waiting to escort them home. It was that moment when it occurred to me that our team were humble like the transportation used to take them to the State Championships. And as I passed the busses, I thought it was appropriate that the number bus they rode in on was number nine.