Their traditional post-championship chant felt a little different. Their hugs and tears more assured.
The Edgewood Wildcats again stormed out of Troy’s Veterans Memorial Stadium with an AISA state title, but this year there was more.
They took a piece of history with them.
The Wildcats’ 61-52 win over Clarke Prep in Friday’s Class AA championship game marked their AISA-record 45th straight win.
Edgewood (14-0) has an entire offseason to ponder: How high can it go?
“We’re not done yet,” junior running back Josh Crawford said. “That’s all I’ll say. We’re definitely not done yet.”
The Wildcats last tasted defeat in 2010 and, whenever the jeweler delivers, can show off their fourth straight state championship ring.
“This team is young and we showed we can do it,” senior quarterback Taylor Hawthorne said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that they can win another.”
Edgewood, after winning the biggest shootout in a state championship game in state history, returns eight starters on both offense and defense next season.
The Wildcats graduate only Hawthorne, lineman Trey Gothard and tight end-linebacker Heath Young. Hawthorne also plays defensive back.
“At Edgewood, we always shoot for the best and we want excellence every day and every year,” junior receiver David Cayton said.
“We want to go undefeated and win it again next year.”
The Wildcats had just two offensive starters back this year, and Hawthorne moved from receiver to quarterback. Young was the only defensive starter who returned.
“Nobody expected us to be in this game, much less win this game,” coach Bobby Carr said. “This is just a resilient group. That’s why I got a little emotional after the game.”
Cayton’s fumble return for a touchdown late in the third quarter fueled another winning rally for Edgewood. The Wildcats, Carr said, trailed in seven games this season.
Clarke Prep (8-5) led 44-34 and was in scoring position when Cayton went 85 yards with a Jarrette Pope fumble. After a successful onsides kick, the Wildcats took the lead on a 10-yard pass from Hawthorne to Daniel Green.
Edgewood junior Jesse Benton, the ringleader in the postgame team chanting session, recovered a fumble to set up another score. Crawford’s 17-yard run made it 54-44 with 9 minutes to play.
Hawthorne sealed it with a 36-yard interception return for a touchdown with 1:25 to play. Clarke Prep trailed 54-52 when Hawthorne carefully trotted into the end zone.
“I was doing anything I could not to get a flag,” Hawthorne said. “I put my hand in the air and brought it down because I didn’t want a penalty.
“It was a great moment. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Hawthorne threw for 226 yards three touchdowns, while Crawford had a hand in four. He ran for 102 yards and two scores and had two TD passes.
“To see a group of ordinary high school football players find a way to become extraordinaire, it’s just unbelievable,” said Carr, whose team has reached the finals for six straight years.
The Wildcats also have an unprecedented five straight AISA baseball championships under Carr. In football, their four straight crowns tie Morgan Academy from 1997-2000.
“I may go home and cuddle up with that trophy,” Carr joked. “I’ll sleep with it tonight.”