TYRONE - The finality of it all hit the Central Scarlet Dragons hard and quickly.
A 17-7 loss to the Tyrone Golden Eagles on Friday night ended the Dragons' six-game winning streak, and ended their season, too.
It was a season of ups and downs - actually downs and ups - for coach A.J. Hoenstine's kids from the Cove. When Tyrone scored with 38 seconds to beat the Dragons, 21-20, on Oct. 1 at Roaring Spring, Central's record tumbled to 1-4.
Hoenstine told his team that night they'd have to run the table - win the rest of the regular-season games - if they hoped to qualify for the District 5-6 Class AA playoffs.
They did, beating Lewistown, Philipsburg-Osceola, Huntingdon, Bald Eagle Area and Indian Valley the next five Fridays to finish 6-4 and earn the fifth seed. The Dragons knocked off No. 4 Ligonier Valley, 26-14, in last week's quarterfinals and made the trek here last night for another crack at unbeaten and top-seeded Tyrone.
The Dragons played hard and led 7-3 after three quarters before the Golden Eagles scored twice in the fourth quarter to pull out the victory and advance to next Friday's championship game against the winner of tonight's Huntingdon-Forest Hills game.
"They wanted another shot at Tyrone," Hoenstine said after taking a few minutes to console several seniors, who felt the sting of the tough season-ending setback. "Tyrone is a great team, they have a great program.
"We just didn't get it done tonight. You've got to play great football to beat Tyrone, and we didn't play our best game," he said. "We played hard, like we always do, but it just didn't happen and a lot of that was Tyrone.
"Their defense was spectacular. They controlled the game."
Central had gone six straight seasons without a winning record when Hoenstine became head coach in 2004.
"They were in 6th grade when I took over," Hoenstine said of the seniors. "We said we were going to have to do a lot to get this thing turned around, and they mean a lot to me."
The senior class played a big part in turning things around. In 2008, when they were sophomores, they helped the Dragons to an 11-3 record and the district title. Last year, as juniors, they finished 10-2 after an upset loss to Tyrone in the semifinals.
"They're a great group of kids, and they set a precedent that our younger guys are following," Hoenstine said. "Our jayvees were 4-4, which isn't great, but three of the games they lost were to tough teams. Our junior high was undefeated, our youth coaches do a good job.
"A lot of it has to do with guys buying into our program."
Hoenstine's Dragons have played Tyrone tough in recent years. Prior to last night's matchup, the teams had met three times head-to-head in the last 13 months, and all of the games were decided by 7 points or less.
"I don't know why [the games are close]," Hoenstine said. "I guess it's just the kids playing hard. I think there's a lot of mutual respect from both teams. Off the field, they're friends, but come game time, they get after it.
"I wish Tyrone the best and hope they represent our league well."
Tyrone coach John Franco was not surprised the way the game unfolded.
"Both defenses were tough," Franco said. "It wasn't like we had a lot of turnovers and penalties, it was two tough defensive teams playing, and all of those offensive weapons ... well, you saw what the most important thing was.
"Defense is obviously more important."
Familiarity also has played a part in the closeness of the games.
"We knew what they were going to do, and they knew what we were going to do," Franco said. "We tried to get some personnel matchups, and that probably was the most important thing we did.
"Then it was just a matter of executing."
And, in the end, the Eagles were able to make more plays than the Dragons.