When Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic went 0-2 to start the season - losing to Bedford and Richland - an appearance in the District 6 Class A championship game wasn't in anybody's thoughts outside of the program.
But the Marauders turned it around and ran off 10 straight wins going into Saturday night's bonechilling district final on a snow-covered field at Mansion Park.
That's part of the reason why the 22-12 loss to Homer-Center, in a game that looked like the Marauders were destined to win until a disastrous couple minutes late in the game, hurt so much.
A few disappointed Marauders lingered on the field afterward. One of them was junior D.J. Kitt, who scored BG's first touchdown on a 74-yard run off of a wraparound draw play. He wasn't surprised of the turnaround from 0-2 to a berth in the district title game and a final record of 10-3.
"We worked harder than anybody in the offseason," said Kitt, a 5-foot-9, 185-pound running back-defensive back. "Our team is like a family, and we come together no matter what. We just fell short. We gave them a great game. Homer-Center is a good team. We just didn't finish."
"Our kids really kept believing," BG coach Justin Wheeler said. "They knew they had some talent, and [the district final] was always our goal. We told them back then it was about winning that first game, and it's about the journey. Those guys did that.
"They played hard all year and had a tremendous season. It didn't end the way we wanted to, but it doesn't take away from what kind of great kids and young men they are."
The winning streak started with a 17-3 victory over Cambria Heights, continued with a few impressive wins in the regular season and gather steam in the postseason with triumphs over Penns Manor, 25-0, and Portage, 42-10.
"We had some injuries and kids coming back," Wheeler said of the streak. "We had a young line that gelled, and they needed some experience playing together. It all kind of happened at the right time."
One of the key cogs in the streak was the play of junior quarterback Brandon Chadbourn, who was injured early, but he returned to become a headache for opposing defensive coordinators with his mobility and his passing.
"Brandon is a great athlete," Wheeler said. "He's done some great things for us, and you can go right down the line of great athletes that we have."
Chadbourn, who intercepted a pass against Homer-Center, was often the leading ground gainer in most games, but it was Kitt on Saturday night, finishing with 87 yards on six carries. Most of that came on the 74-yard run in which he wasn't even touched.
"We put that in at the beginning of the year, and we ran it about two times all year," Kitt said smiling. "It was just a great play, great call and I got great blocking for it."
While most players wouldn't have wanted to play a district title in winter weather on a snowy field, Kitt didn't mind.
"It's something you dream of growing up, playing in a championship game in this kind of weather with your best friends," Kitt said. "It was a lot of fun. We had turnovers, and we beat ourselves tonight. Give credit to them, though."
BG lost to eventual district champion Bellwood-Antis in last year's district semifinals, which made the Marauders hungrier this season.
"We just wanted to improve each game and get to the championship," Kitt said. "We didn't finish it this year, but we always have next year. Our underclassmen will probably start tomorrow getting our heads up for next season."
Wheeler wasn't surprised that Kitt was already looking forward to next season. Many of the Marauders, including Kitt, Chadbourn, Sam McCloskey and Matt Gormley, will return for next season in attempt to win the program's first district title since 1987.
"Yeah," Wheeler said with a laugh, "that's the guys that we have. Their goal was to win the district title. I'm sure they're a little disappointed right now, and they know it's going to take hard work. Most of our skill position guys are back. We're going to lose some great seniors who did outstanding jobs for us.
"But [the underclassmen] have big hopes, and we hope to be back here next year."