The time for his tears had ended.
They already flowed as the clock struck zero on his team’s uncharacteristically sloppy 41-0 loss in the PIAA AA championship-football game Sunday afternoon.
They ceased as cameras captured the awkward post-game presentation in which a silver runner-up trophy, commemorative football and oversized Hershey’s chocolate bar were accepted.
Then, they resumed as his head coach told he and his teammates that he was not only proud of their accomplishments, but that he loved them all, and he always would.
After changing out of his uniform as an Imhotep Institute Charter High School Panther for the last time, captain Deandre Scott — the young man who had an injured teammate’s jersey draped over his own during pregame warmups — made that long walk from Hershey Park Stadium to the parking lot where buses waited to make the return trip to East Germantown.
Scott was one of the last players to emerge from the locker room, about 45 minutes after watching the South Fayette Lions hoist the trophy he’d spent a high-school football career toiling to grab.
Walking past a pair of assistant coaches collecting game jerseys and pants, and fans who offered condolence hugs, he spoke about the kind of pain he could only liken to one’s heart being ripped out.
He wondered aloud about how a good player, a good captain, a good leader, could let what just happened happen.
“I feel like,” said Scott, the defensive back headed to Arizona State University next year, “I let a lot of people down.”
The agony of defeat
That reaction was driven by the immediate shock of a storied high-school career’s worst loss.
It was a defeat that ended a season which saw the 600-student charter at W. Godfrey Ave. and N. 21st St. become the first Philadelphia public school to play in a PIAA championship-football game. Imhotep came within 41 points of being the first school in Pennsylvania history to win both the basketball and football state titles in the same calendar year.
Scott’s words, however, didn’t match the reaction of his coaching staff, fans who boarded six buses for the two-hour drive to Hershey and his younger brother/teammate DeVonte who later would Tweet, “I love you bro. You played your heart out for us today and I’ma miss u.”
Still, head coach Albie Crosby — who was an assistant coach on a West Catholic team that dismantled the Lions in the 2010 title game — understood where his go-to team leader was coming from.
“I know this s— hurts, but the reason it hurts is because you gave it your all,” said Crosby, facing his team and the stadium scoreboard as the cheers of the Lions and their fans came close to drowning his words out. “When you lose, you feel the pain immediately, but believe me, this will make you stronger in life.
“I’m proud of y’all. It’s very easy for me to say that, to say I love you, when you just won by 55, but when you’re down, that’s when you get to know who really cares about you.”
The game itself
Crosby then answered questions offered up by reporters from Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and in between.
They focused on how South Fayette, the suburban Pittsburgh team led by standout quarterback Brett Brumbaugh’s 299-yard, three-touchdown performance, manhandled his side in all facets of the game.
“They were 41 points better than us, and I applaud those guys. We just never got in sync,” said Crosby. “My hat’s off to them. Hopefully, we can learn from this.”
From the Imhotep perspective, it was a tough game from the get-go.
After the Panthers defense forced a 3rd and 13 on the Lions’ opening drive, two consecutive encroachment penalties gave away 10 free yards and led to a six-yard touchdown.
On the subsequent drive, Panthers quarterback Andre Dreuitt and his speedy running backs could get nothing started.
Then came South Fayette touchdown passes of 53 yards and 64 yards, a level of offensive prowess that called to mind what Imhotep regularly did to the opposition this season.
With 10 minutes left in the first half, Scott intercepted Brumbaugh, but the offense couldn’t turn it into points.
The next score, a 4-yard J.J. Walker touchdown run that gave the Lions a 28-point lead, came with 56 seconds in the half. Twenty-eight game seconds later, Conner Beck intercepted a Dreuitt pass and return it 46 yards for a touchdown.
The 35-point lead meant, per PIAA mercy rules, that the second half would feature a running clock. For all intents and purposes, the game was over, clearing the way for the South Fayette marching band to play Queen’s “We Are The Champions.”
Though a third-quarter drive would bring Imhotep within a half yard of putting points on the board, South Fayette’s defense kept them out of the end zone on four consecutive rushing plays.
The Lions would add a late touchdown, but the block extra point brought about the final score of 41-0.
While the reality settled in long ago, and South Fayette fans already ceased loudly singing “Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye,” the Imhotep Panthers dutifully lined up at the 50-yard line to shake hands with this year’s PIAA AA Champions.
“I don’t have a problem with anybody crying,” their coach would tell them. “That means you gave it everything you had.”
Yes, the defeat was a harsh one that led to tears, but one Imhotep fan had a message for the team before they left for Philadelphia.
“Proud of y’all,” he yelled. “Proud of y’all. Proud of y’all.”