ALLISON PARK - When Tussey Mountain needed a long touchdown pass to beat Everett on Aug. 30 and fell to 1-1 the next week, no one could have foreseen the Titans' season ending on the last week of November at Hampton High School's frigid Fridley Field.
That's what happened, though, and Tussey's 48-7 PIAA quarterfinal playoff loss to Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic of the WPIAL did little to detract from as good a season as the Titan program has enjoyed.
As difficult as it was to keep that in perspective in the moments following the final game, the Titans still realized that.
"It's pretty hard to come back to being happy about it right now," said Jensen Wilkins, Tussey's mammoth senior nose guard, "but, other than that, we've done so much. This season has been great."
Tussey, which made its first trip to the state football playoffs in its history, finished with a school-record 11 wins, won the Silver Division of the Inter-County Conference and captured its second District 5 championship ever - that was its first since 1988 and broke a drought for Bedford County schools in Class A going back to 1995.
The Titans had a string of six straight games in the middle of the season in which they scored at least 42 points and then scored 41 and 42 in their district semifinal and championship contests.
Overshadowed by the prolific offense, the defense held eight of the last 11 teams it faced to 14 points or fewer.
"It was a heck of a season," Tussey standout senior defensive end-tight end and captain Wyatt Brumbaugh said. "We always knew we had the potential. We just had to prove it.
"Heart. It was just heart."
That showed pretty early in the year. After the heart-stopping win over Everett, Tussey faltered against what at that point was a fairly inexperienced Northern Bedford team. If not for Quinn Barnett's 51-yard pass to Darrin Sipes that pulled out the Everett game, Tussey could very well have started 0-2.
For a program that historically has been among the lesser-lights in the region, that could have been disastrous. Instead, the Titans rose from the ashes like another mythical being - the phoenix - coming a two-point loss at Mount Union from running the table through the rest of the regular season before they dispatched traditional District 5 powers North Star and Berlin Brothersvalley in their playoff run.
"The motivation came from when we lost to NBC," Wilkins said. "From then on, we got our heads on straight and just kept working."
The Berlin win probably will be the game most remembered about this team. Tussey fell behind 7-0 almost immediately but didn't hang its head, instead scoring 42 straight points to upset the top seed.
"We've been saying since seventh grade that we were going to go far. Everyone's believed in us," senior fullback Kyle Kline said, slowly breaking into tears. "We knew we had what it takes to get to [the] District 5 [championship], and we did it."
The pieces will be there for a strong follow-up campaign in 2014.
When injuries decimated the Titans early in the second quarter, a large throng of Tussey fans got to view next year's probable starting backfield of Quinn Barnett, Daniel Taylor, Curtis Wentz and Drew Sitch. Returnees Taylor, Wentz, Sitch and Andrew Black combined for 180 yards on the ground, while Barnett threw for more than 1,400 yards this season.
"They can do it. Everybody knows they can do it," Brumbaugh said. "They just have to tell themselves that."
Three starting linemen will be back, too.
"The young guys kept working hard in practice. They worked hard every snap in practice, even when they weren't first string," Tussey coach Josh Smith. "Even now in mop-up time, they stepped up and made some plays."
However, there will be plenty of rebuilding to be done. Thirteen of the 27 players on the Titan roster are seniors, including starters Sipes, Brock Rhoat, Brumbaugh, Kline, Matt Kline, Lance Barnett, Tyler Runk, Matt Brode and Wilkins.
Kyle Kline played more than half the season with a torn ACL he sustained in the Williamsburg game.
"I figured it was my last year, and I couldn't let my brothers go out alone," said Kline, who was injured again in the second quarter on Friday night and watched the second half in street clothes with Sipes and Rhoat, who also got hurt early against North Catholic.
"Brotherhood" was the watchword for the Titans.
"We're always behind each other. We've been like that from the very beginning," Kline said. "Going through preseason and everything else with these guys, there's nothing like it."
Four fan buses were chartered to follow the Titans from the Saxton area to the suburbs north of Pittsburgh on a chilly night and cheered for them even late into the fourth quarter. With all this team achieved, that gave Brumbaugh the greatest satisfaction.
"We gave a community that has nothing," Brumbaugh said, "something to believe in."