Up in smoke.
An Erwin High football season with so much promise went poof in November, a 9-0 start and the look of an unbeatable squad suddenly undone with back-to-back losses, ending in heartbreak last week in the first round of the playoffs when an Ashbrook field goal sailed through the uprights in the second overtime.
A somber locker room on Monday afternoon included assistant coaches cleaning lockers and packing up supplies, end-of-season chores they didn’t expect to be doing until later in the playoffs, or perhaps after a state title.
“We’re a team that made history and did some great things, but things sure took a turn for the worst the last couple of weeks,” said senior offensive lineman and co-captain Aaron Marquez.
A group of 20 seniors went 26-9 over the past three seasons and continued the impressive turnaround of a program that won just 10 games in 10 seasons seasons not so long ago (1989-98).
“It’s just human nature to think about (what might have been),” said head coach Mike Sexton, the architect of the Erwin renaissance who completed his sixth straight winning season with the program and ia 51-24 overall.
The 2013 Warriors through nine games averaged 53.5 points and 491 yards per game, beating opponents by an average of more than 34 points per game.
But after three players were suspended following drug possession charges, including top receivers Jonathan Allen and Jordan Tigar (combined 94 receptions, 1,506 yards and 16 touchdowns), those numbers plummeted in the Warriors’ final two games.
In losses to Asheville (21-7 in the Mountain Athletic Conference title game) and Ashbrook (38-35), Erwin averaged 21 points and 314 yards per game.
“A season never ends good unless you win a state championship,” said Sexton, who declined to talk about the effect the suspensions had on his team.
“But especially there is a lag this year because our expectations were so high.”
Despite the poor finish, Sexton says he will remember a season full of highlights.
“You have to focus on all the good things that happened with this group, the seniors who worked so hard and the underclassmen who together did great things.
“When these guys were on offensively (scoring 46 or more points in eight of the first nine games, with at least seven touchdowns in each of those games), they were a machine, fun to watch and fun to coach.
“And the defense complemented that, just a great group of kids and a great coaching staff.”
The Warriors lose 20 seniors, but a solid junior-varsity team and undefeated middle school squad should be able to keep producing winning football.
“The way the season ended, that disappointment will be with the players and the community for a long time, but that’s the way football goes sometimes.” said Sexton.
Marquez, among several seniors who should get a chance to play in college, is confident his class set the foundation for future success.
“We have the best coaching staff in the state, and there is plenty of talent left here,” he said.
“The underclassmen learned how to play in big games, and that’s going to help.”
“We set a lot of records and we had a lot of adversity,” said senior lineman Triston Jones, another co-captain.
“And we certainly learned some life lessons, the hard way.”