McLean County High School football fans stayed on the Independence Bank Field turf for a long time Friday night.
They had taken over their side of Steele Stadium for the Class 2-A playoffs District 2 championship game, and after the Cougars finished a 37-36 upset for the ages of Owensboro Catholic, the Cougar fans decided to stay awhile, celebrating in the end zone opposite the scoreboard.
"We milled around the field for so long, it was pretty late when we got back," McLean County head coach Zach Wagner said. "It was very surreal, I know that sounds cliche. My friend (Justin Cook) just kept saying 'I can't believe we did it.' "
McLean County beat Catholic for the first time since the 1992 season, and the stakes were such that this win was an all-time memory. It reminded Wagner of the 1999 Perry Central semistate victory over Indianapolis Ritter that propelled the team he played on and his dad, Terry Wagner, coached.
"My father got to come down Friday, when it was over we sat down after the game and talked, and it reminded us both of that '99 game," Zach Wagner said.
Wagner didn't get much sleep Friday night and into Saturday morning with the excitement of the victory, and knowing McLean County will be traveling to Somerset for the third round of the 2-A playoffs, the state quarterfinals.
He often grades film of a Friday night game at his football office in Calhoun and at home in Owensboro.
"Usually the first thing I do is grade film, nitpick, critique linemen steps and angles," Zach Wagner said. "For probably the first time in seven years I picked out the big plays and watched the big plays. I saw the big Landen Capps catch. Andrew Munster always runs hard, and he had several 3-yard, 31/2-yard runs that were impressive and you didn't realize it in moment of the game."
Saturday is usually the coaching staff's day to do next-day looks with the team of the previous game, but they let players off this Saturday. Usually the first round of the playoffs coincides with the first week of deer hunting season, and a majority of the team work at deer meat processing facility in Calhoun.
"Most of them were up at 4 a.m. Saturday getting ready for work," Wagner said. "If they weren't working, they were out hunting."
Saturday for Wagner was spent looking at text messages or getting calls on his cell phone.
"My phone has blown up," Wagner said. "What makes that even more special was a lot of former players from the last seven years, called or sent a text. It was very humbling how many of them got in touch with me. My wife during football season wants me to stay off the phone on Saturday, she thinks I take too many calls from coaches and other people, but she let that go this time."
Wagner and his family live in Owensboro, and they have neighbors with children who play with Wagner's kids, the neighbor's family goes to Catholic schools. A "Go Catholic" sign was put in Wagner's yard by the neighbors, all in fun, Wagner said. His daughter Bentley told the neighbor kids if McLean County won "we'll shock the world."
The Wagner kids went to the neighbors to play on Saturday, and their message back was "Go Cougars."
As it is with most football teams and coaches, after a win or loss, no matter how big in either direction, there is a so-called 24-hour rule. Celebrate or mourn for a day, then move on to the next game.
"This is one weekend I enjoyed the win a little more than usual," Wagner said.
The next game will be at Somerset on Friday night.
It's hard to tell how McLean County will approach this coming week, since it is uncharted territory, much like having beaten Catholic for the first time in almost three decades.
"We were unloading equipment back at the school, and our guys asked about Somerset," Wagner said. "They're a big, fast team, another daunting challenge we told them. A couple of the guys were like, 'We beat Catholic, let's keep playing.' I liked their attitudes going forward."