HERSHEY - In the movies, the underdog usually wins.
It's rare that the Hollywood ending plays out in real life. Such was the case for the Tyrone Area High School football team on Saturday. Lancaster Catholic's 17-7 victory over the Golden Eagles in the PIAA Class AA championship game lacked the feel-good finish of "Hoosiers'' or "The Natural.''
A better parallel to Tyrone's 2011 season could be found in "300,'' in which a small group of Spartan warriors held out valiantly before eventually succumbing to the overwhelming numbers of the Persian army.
As senior receiver Nick Patton hoisted the silver runner-up trophy to a roar of cheers from a sea of orange-and-black clad fans who filled up the home stands at Hersheypark Stadium, one had to wonder if the legacy of the vanquished might eclipse the memory of the outcome.
"We're the second best team of the state. We made it this far. They were just a better team,'' Patton said. "We didn't play our best in the first half, but we came back in the second half and played our hearts out. I don't know if we can do anything else. You have to be happy with what we have. You have to be happy.''
"We're not a very big group. We've battled odds all the way. But their effort was second to none,'' veteran Tyrone coach John Franco said. "It was not, by far, the most talented team I've ever coached, but I think it was the team that had the most heart, the most desire, gave the most of themselves. I think we got more out of this group than any other group, which says a lot, because we've had an awful lot of good ones.
"Even had we won, I don't think I could be more proud.''
Fresh off back-to-back years as district runners-up, the Golden Eagles came into the year having major questions about their lack of size and line play. They ended it with the second-most wins in team history and the school's third trip to the PIAA finals.
"I don't think anybody but us and our coaches thought we could make it here,'' fullback/linebacker J.D. Dorminy said.
Spearheaded by Patton and quarterback Steve Franco, they shattered the program's season records for passing, and, with Christian Getz toting the ball, the Eagles ran for even more yards, setting a new team mark for total yardage and finishing only five points behind the state-champion 1999 squad for scoring in a season.
"We just kept getting better and better as the season went on,'' senior safety Markus Wagner said. "The loss to Mifflin County [in overtime in week 2] set us back a bit. That proved we could be beaten. It made us work harder.''
Like those Spartans holding the Thermopylae pass against the Persians, the Eagles were an extremely tight-knit group. Many of them had been close friends since elementary school, and they picked up some other players like Wagner, Franco, defensive tackle Shaquille Williams and receiver/defensive back Charles Wilson-Adams who would turn out to be key performers as the moved into junior high.
"We're not even a team. We're brothers. We all get along,'' Dorminy said. "We're family.''
Sometimes, that's not just figurative speaking.
One of the interesting dynamics of the team was the father-son coach-quarterback combination. In some situations, that could have resulted in jealousy and dissension. It never seemed to be an issue with the Eagles, though, and made the run extra-special for both Francos.
"That's the best thing in the world,'' Steve Franco said. "You always have the goal of getting to Hershey. You never actually believe it until you do it. That I could do it with him and he could do it with me was so special. It's something I'll remember for the rest of our lives.''
Like Patton, it didn't take the younger Franco long to put aside the disappointment of the loss and start to take stock of the bigger picture: "I'm already starting to realize how much we accomplished.''
There were still tears, though, especially when the game ended up so close and Tyrone was 25 yards away from taking the lead in the final 3 minutes.
"I think it makes it harder,'' Dorminy said. "We have a lot to be proud of. Don't get me wrong. But I know how much every kid on this team wanted it. I know how much I wanted it. I put everything into it. That just makes it harder for me, because it's my last game ever.''
Maybe so. But Tyrone coaches will always be able to use the 2011 team as an example of what a group of players can do if they put their hearts and their minds to it. Sometimes, those kind of intangibles outlast trophies.
"We just came up a little bit short,'' senior defensive end Corbin Nevling-Ray said.
Cmor can be reached at 946-7440 or firstname.lastname@example.org.