Lake City football coach Tim Peterson stood in the middle of a circle of supporters, telling them that his team had some unfinished business to take care of up north.
A few feet away, members of the Alcona football team huddled together, many of them in tears, as senior fullback Nathan Fettes led them through one last team prayer.
Alcona's dream season is over.
Where do you begin on the list of accomplishments by this team? The 9-0 regular season? A second straight playoff berth? Three players racking up more than 1,000 rushing yards each? The first football division title in school history? The school's first playoff football win?
Oh and as of Saturday morning, they were one of 10 teams left standing in Division 7.
Time and again, the Tigers proved any doubters wrong this season as they whipped on one opponent after another. In Week 5, the Tigers seemed to know every play Whittemore-Prescott was going to throw at them and put the clamps on the elusive Jens Gillings to earn their first victory over the Cardinals in 21 years.
At that point, even Alcona coach Dave Schneider couldn't help thinking his team might be in the midst of a special season.
With each win, Alcona seemed to pick up more and more momentum and the Tigers' support grew. A buzz grew around the school. Teachers came into Schneider's football office and told him to keep up the good work, that what his team was accomplishing was a huge morale booster for the school, for fans and for the community.
"It started to sink in I think after we beat Whittemore-Prescott when I had some community members came up to me," Schneider said. "One man, an older gentleman came up to me and said, 'This is probably the best thing that's ever happened to Alcona.' I thought about it and it kind of humbles you."
In Week 9, I thought the Tigers had met their match in Mio. With Brad Rhoads directing a high-octane pistol attack, I figured the game would be a shootout and thought Alcona was in for a tough challenge.
Not so much.
Alcona limited Rhoads to less than 200 passing yards and made Mio's offense look rather pedestrian. I picked Mio to win that game and at one point in the second half after an Alcona touchdown, Schneider looked at me and shook his finger. All I could do was smile knowingly.
The Tigers didn't have that same magic on Saturday. Lake City quarterback Drew Marion has wreaked havoc on opposing defenses all season and Alcona was no exception. Marion had an endless amount of tricks up his sleeve and made the game seem effortless as he rushed for six touchdowns and passed for another.
They say all good things must come to an end and Lake City closed the book on probably the greatest season in Alcona football history. Backed by an experienced offensive line, the Tigers piled on rushing yards this season like they were going for the high score at pinball. More than 4,700 yards in 11 games, are you kidding? Some teams would do anything for even half of that.
That brings us back to Fettes. Three years ago in August 2010, Fettes made his Alcona debut as a freshman, filling in for his older brother Kevin and scoring two touchdowns to go with 132 rushing yards. Three years later, he finishes his career as Alcona's all-time leading rusher and led his team on Saturday with 134 yards on 13 carries.
Fettes was the focal point of the Tigers' offense, but Cody Franklin, Josh Mead and Garrette Norling were just as crafty carrying the ball and helped achieve the highest scoring total in school history.
On the other side of the ball, Alcona played with a smash mouth style that overwhelmed opponents. Norling finishes his career as the school's all-time leading tackler and Chad Cole, Lucas Weichel, Fettes were important pieces of Alcona's defense as well. Players were fast, hard-hitting and not afraid to take some hits from opponents and bounce right back up.
Alcona entered the year with high expectations. Players talked about being hungry right from the get go and taking championship-caliber reps every single time whether it was during practice or during a game.
Schneider has talked repeatedly about getting his players to drink the Kool-Aid - that is, getting his players to buy into his football philosophy-and he and his staff have instilled a winning mentality over the last four years. Players have started believe that good things will happen and Schneider said there were some moments this season where players had to look each other in the face and forgive each other when disagreements came up to keep everyone focused on the goal of winning games.
"Kids are a little more excited and it affects everything; especially winning the right way. We run a nice clean program and we demand that these men perform in the classroom and the community with the highest level of standard," Schneider said. "Being able to nurse your team through the rough spots and the hard spots and watching them respond, behave like the kind of men you hope they'll be someday is very gratifying."
Schneider told me Thursday that the sting of a loss to Lake City wouldn't go away simply with a pat on the back.
No, a pat on the back won't take that sting away, particularly for Alcona's seniors, but they more than earned one this season.
Alcona won't take to the gridiron again this season, but what the Tigers accomplished this season will be talked about for years.
And that's certainly something to be proud of.
James Andersen can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.