ALBANY -- The Deerfield-Windsor postgame huddle was interrupted by a presentation of the GISA Class AAA state championship trophy to the George Walton Bulldogs.
An eruption of the GW fight song, waving flags and a wild pile of Bulldogs players grasping at the crown jewel of the prep football season took over midfield in the aftermath of their 42-24 win at Webb Memorial Stadium.
DWS junior Rhett Cooper jumped up with his face a mixture of sweat, tears and smeared eye black and unleashed all the frustration built up through 48 minutes of watching the quest for the first back-to-back state championships in school history wrestled away.
"Remember this moment, juniors!" Cooper yelled to his teammates. "Don't forget watching them celebrate!"
While that may be the indelible memory of the Knights' offseason, it will be closely followed by images of the bigger George Walton front lines bullying DWS into submission.
George Walton had 306 yards of offense in the game -- and only threw one pass. It went for zero yards. They averaged 6.5 yards per carry and three rushers had at least 65 yards, led by Eric Dobbs with 112.
"They are definitely the biggest, toughest, strongest team that we play," Cooper said in a calmer moment after the game. "We got overpowered (Friday night) and it hurts. It hurts bad. But next year we are going to have some boys grow up; we are still going to have speed, so we are going to come back, we are going to win a state championship."
Pretty clearly on this night, the DWS team of only eight seniors was still a year away.
"We got outmanned by about 40 or 50 pounds per person and it showed," DWS coach Allen Lowe said.
The size mismatch forced Deerfield (12-3) to run its offense on the edges and three times Knights quarterback Banks Kinslow was intercepted. None was more critical than the second.
With DWS coming out of halftime down, 21-10, with a drive to the GW 35, Kinslow threw up a fourth-and-3 pass amid a heavy rush when GW's Justin Brown stepped in front of the receiver for the pick. After weaving in and out of potential tacklers for 70 yards, he ran into the end zone -- with control of the state championship in his arms.
A DWS punt and 8-yard TD run by Dobbs followed to make it 35-10 and put the game nearly out of reach before the end of the third quarter.
"It was really tough," Kinslow said. "They just get so big and strong up the middle, they get such a push. We tried to spread them out and keep getting wide and wide, but eventually that is going to get to you when you can't go up the middle."
DWS' career rushing record holder Tony Zenon finished with 15 carries for 122 yards and a touchdown on the ground. He also had four receptions for 94 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown catch from receiver Reggie Brown on a trick play in the first quarter.
Those moments were few and far between for the Knights, who saw an 11-game win streak snapped. Deerfield opened the year with a 16-6 loss to George Walton in the season opener. Back then, it appeared an improbability the Knights would return to defend their 2008 state title.
Still, with only four starters returning and all new lines, this team repeated the accomplishments of the previous season and went from a 1-2 start to the state title game.
In the end for Lowe, it will be this group's legacy which he remember most.
"It shows it's not how you start it is how you finish," said Lowe, whose team won all its games by double digits. "It is a group that nobody really thought we could get back here. We ran off 11 straight wins and we did it in convincing style, which is even more shocking."
Lowe found his way through crowds of parents, teachers and fans on the field after the game. Most of those he shared hugs with will be back to play for him next season.
And most of those will also be replaying the images of this defeat in their heads until they earn a shot at redemption.
"Watching them celebrate makes you want it even more," said Kinslow, a junior, who finished 8-of-16 for 147 yards. "That 5-4-3-2-1, watching those seconds tick off, just makes you hungry for it. It makes you want to come back and win it next year. That is what our goal is going to be, to be back here next year. We will be here, count on us."