Life is a journey not a destination, a famous person once said.
That's the perspective the Braden River High football team should take into the offseason.
The home scoreboard said St. Thomas Aquinas 27 and Braden River 10 Friday night. But that doesn't tell the story of these Pirates. All it says is the final score of the Class 7A state semifinal.
The Braden River players walked off the field winners. Final scores of games fade quickly into the distance. It's how you got to the final game that is so much more important.
And the best thing is that this football program is still in its infancy stage and the ride is not over. The Pirates are just stopping to put some more gas in the bus. Then the journey will continue.
These kids, especially the seniors, are winners for so many reasons. Four years ago and beyond, football players at the school were jumping ship at a record pace, leaving for what they perceived as greener pastures.
But some kids saw something else and then a guy named Curt Bradley and his genius offensive coordinator, Eric Sanders, arrived and the landscape started to change.
Tragedy wrapped itself around this program since almost the beginning when the first head coach had to resign amid his DUI manslaughter conviction that ended the life of a fellow football coach at the school. Nobody wanted to be connected with this program and the stadium was empty on game nights. Basketball had become the big sport at the school and people seemed to be avoiding the football field as if it was haunted.
But those seniors who walked off the field Friday night showed others what it means to stick things out, and that's a lesson more important than getting the most points on the scoreboard.
From 1-9 to 13-1 in four years covers a lot of ground.
This game did not turn into the rout that many predicted against an Aquinas program that put up 60 points last week and now is one game away from winning its ninth state championship. Aquinas head coach Roger Harriott was not ashamed to admit he was lucky to get out of Manatee County with a victory.
"My hat's off to Braden River," Harriott said. "They have a ton of heart. We were fortunate to get out of here with a win tonight. We have a high-tempo offense and our defensive guys were on and our special teams do a great job of changing the math of the field. That is difficult to compete with, but they hung in there."
Braden River had to play a near perfect game to stay with Aquinas, but perfection is as hard on the football field as it is in life. The Pirates made some mistakes, had a couple of turnovers, couldn't get the right bounces, and then some calls went the wrong way.
Aquinas fumbled four times, but only lost it once. Quarterback Jake Allen was intercepted once, but a penalty was called on the Pirates and it turned to be just as good as a punt.
It was that kind of night.
Braden River took the opening kickoff and marched down the field to score on a nine-play, 80-yard drive, but Aquinas came back with a 10-play scoring drive.
"They are so good across the board -- defensive line, linebackers and secondary -- there is no weakness out there," Sanders said. "They did what we thought they would and we got them early, but we kind of wore down and every time we tried to hit a big play, something bad would happen. We just couldn't sustain drives. They don't let anything behind them."
The Braden River offense loses seven starters including quarterback Jacob Huesman, who was 24-2 as a starter. They suffered some key injuries during the season, but no one ever used it as an excuse.
"The game was closer than the scoreboard indicates and I am so proud of these kids and what they have done and what they accomplished in four years," Sanders said. "They are such great kids to coach and the reason it is such a pleasure to coach here. We've come a long way since being the doormat of everybody, and now we are regional champions."