ALBANY -- Somewhere in the middle of the chaos, at the center of the bedlam that had swept onto the field and into the hearts of Deerfield-Windsor -- right there, amid the tears and screaming and shouts of joy, someone decided it was time to pick up Trey Puckett.
So there he was, Puckett, the 16-year-old kicker, being hoisted on the shoulders of his teammates.
Why not? Puckett had just lifted Deerfield-Windsor into the state championship game.
"This is the best feeling on earth, the best feeling ever,'' said Puckett, who was mobbed after he hit a 40-yard field goal as time ran out to beat Mount de Sales, 30-27, on Friday night at Webb Memorial Stadium and send Deerfield into the GISA Class AAA state title game. "This is what I worked for all summer. All that work was for this moment.''
The moment, the game and this magical season all belonged to Deerfield's believers, the kids who don't just believe they are going to win, but believed in each other.
They hugged and cried together in the middle of the field after this one, this incredible state semifinal game that far exceeded the greatest expectations. It was billed as the unofficial state title, and it's difficult to imagine a better showdown.
"I've never won a playoff game on a last-second field goal,'' said Deerfield coach Allen Lowe, his eyes covered in tears. "This is a moment I will never forget. It's one Trey will never forget. It's one this team will never forget.''
He's right about that.
These kids are the first group to ever go 12-0 and they can make it a perfect 13-0 with a win against Tattnall Square in the state title game next week, right back at Webb Memorial, where the Deerfield kids were on their knees, holding hands on the sidelines as Puckett lined up for the game-winning kick. He had missed his first extra point of the night, and had also missed a 45-yard field goal in the third quarter.
But the kids believed in Puckett.
"Right after he missed the 45-yarder, I told him he was going to get another chance and he was going to make a big field goal,'' said DWS linebacker Rhett Cooper, who had another monster night on defense.
Just before the game-winner, quarterback Banks Kinslow, who holds for Puckett, ran onto the field, and turned to Kyle Belcher, the kicking coach. Kinslow smiled and gave him a thumbs up.
"I gave him a thumbs up and told him not to worry,'' he said. "I knew Trey was going to make it. When he kicked it, I didn't even have to look up. I knew it was good. He hit it so square. He hit it right in the gut of the football.''
That's how the loss must have felt to Mount de Sales, a team with the most explosive offense in all of GISA. The Cavaliers were better than advertised and not only used their two big backs -- Chris Swain (101 yards) and his younger brother Myles Swain (111 yards) to move the ball all night -- but pulled out a play for the ages to end the first half.
With time running out, a 10-yard pass to Myles Swain to the DWS 35-yard line turned into a circus act when the Cavaliers started a hook-and-ladder play that didn't end until four laterals later when Brandon Sartin took the ball at his own 45 and weaved his way 55 yards, diving into the corner of the end zone for a 20-13 lead.
The Knights had traded TDs in the first half, scoring first on James Tyson's 38-yard run, and coming back after Chris Swain's 7-yard TD as both kickers missed the first extra points of the night. Mount de Sales then took a 13-6 lead on QB Bradley Smith's 5-yard run with 2:47 left in the half, but Lowe answered with a trick play of his own -- a double reverse with Quentin Heard pitching the ball back to Kinslow, who found Davis Moore for a 45-yard pass to the 20. Gaughf Ivey busted for a 12-yard gain to the 8, and Kinslow scored on a 1-yard run with 1:13 left in the half to knot things at 13-13, setting the stage for the bizarre play to end the half.
"It was a such a wild play. I'm sure it will be on YouTube in a few hours,'' Lowe said. "That play could have really taken it out of us, but after ending the half on that play and for us to come back ... I am so proud of them. I can't tell you how proud I am of them.''
DWS, which had not trailed in a game all year, took the opposite approach.
"That play won the game for us,'' Kinslow said. "We were so mad when we got to the locker room, and then Rhett Cooper gave us such an emotional speech we all came out so pumped up and ready to win the game.''
Cooper talked about trust and believing in each other. He went to the heart of what has made this team great all year. He touched every player in that room.
"He made me cry with that speech,'' said Heard, who gained only eight yards in the first half but finished the game with 80.
On the first play from scrimmage in the second half, Cooper hit Chris Swain hard and then recovered a fumble at the MDS 12-yard-line. Kinslow then hit a wide open Michael Laslie on the next play for a 12-yard TD, and just like that it was 20-20 tie game.
Deerfield took a 27-20 lead when Heard went 25 yards for a TD with 6:10 left in the game that completed an 81-yard drive, but Mount de Sales, which averaged more than 45 points a game, came right back and Chris Swain scored on a 3-yard run with 3:35 left on a drive that was highlighted by a 50-yard pass from Bradley Smith to Josh Abrams on a fourth-and-4 at the Mount de Sales 42.
Then came the final drive for DWS that started with a broken play. But ultimately, that play ignited the drive.
"There was no pass play,'' senior RB Davis Moore said. "I didn't have a route, but when the play broke down, I was looking at Banks. Banks and I grew up together. We know how each other thinks.''
Indeed. Kinslow hit Moore for an 11-yard gain and a horse-collar penalty moved the ball to the Mount de Sales 41. Moore, who finished with 64 yards on nine carries, picked up 11 to the 30, and everyone started looking for Puckett. Heard ran the ball twice and then Kinslow picked up two yards to the 23, and Lowe let the clock roll down to 4.9 seconds before sending in his kicker.
"He really got all of it,'' Lowe said of the game-winning boot. "I think it would have been good from 60 yards out.''
Then came pure pandemonium, the kind you dream about to end a game.
"I jumped to the sky,'' Puckett said.
He didn't want to come down. Neither did the Deerfield kids, who hugged and danced and shouted to the heavens. Some laughed, some cried.
"If you don't cry after a game like that, your heart is not in this game,'' Ivey said.
No one argued.
"When they scored that last touchdown, we knew we would score,'' Moore said. "We believed we could come back, because we believe in each other. This is such a special thing, a special feeling we have. This team is special.''