For a half dozen Glendale High School 'victory lap' athletes, Thursday's TVRA Varsity football game against the Montcalm Cougars from London represented the end of an era.
Five years of high school football, one final game.
For some, it was the last time they will ever wear football equipment. For others, a stepping stone into post-secondary football.
For the entire team, it was a chance to savour a third consecutive TVRA Varsity championship. Tillsonburg took an 18-0 lead in the first half Thursday afternoon, and carried it through the final two quarters to win 39-0, concluding an undefeated season.
"They played amazing today," said Gemini head coach Lee Janzen.
"They played solid defence all year," said Janzen, crediting Liam Spencer, Chris Toth and Julius Ochmann, three Gemini captains, for coordinating the defence.
"Those guys had control of the defence this year – I let them run it."
While it's common to let quarterbacks call offensive players, it's rare to see players 'quarterback' the defence.
"They made on-field calls. Today, I switched things up a little. But essentially that's them out there reading the offence, making the calls. I'm proud of those guys. I don't think we've ever done that before."
Montcalm was "sticking pretty tight" in the first half, said Janzen, in a "battle of the line." With a brisk wind out of the north and west, it wasn't a 'throwing' day.
"We had a lot of trouble running the ball. We tried to run inside a lot, because they were stacking the edges for sweeps, but they played tough up the middle too."
"They put their 'd' ends out wide which stopped us from being able to do those pitches," said Glendale quarterback Kevin Arnel. "It turned into smash-mouth football and trench warfare because we had to start running up the gut."
Neither team scored in the final quarter, and the Gemini were able to preserve the shutout.
"It's the best feeling," said Damien Cooper, a fifth-year strong safety with two interceptions in the championship win.
"I just can't believe it," said runningback Michael Ram, proud of the achievement. "I think there's six of us – five Bowls, three of them we won. And we're really the only people on the team right now that actually had a loss. No one else really knows how that feels (football-wise). But it's going to carry on next year, for sure."
For Ram, Thursday's three touchdowns were likely his final TDs.
"I think this was the last season," said Ram. "It's a sad day the last day you strap on the pads.
"You're out here every day during the season. Three hours every day. And those (fifth-year) boys, I've been out here with them five years every single day. Not just in football, outside football too.
"We've got the whole entire community here. You look at coach (Steve) McQueen over there... we had new coaches come in because we lost (Sean) VanBeers. It was a rebuilding phase and I'm just glad we won the championship."
The fifth-year players remember Glendale's TVRA Junior-Senior era, two trips to the Junior Bowl game, and one Junior Bowl championship.
"It was definitely a different era," said Arnel. "It was a different feeling. I hope that the juniors don't start getting pushed aside. The Grade 11s were the first of the varsity era, and I think if you look at the 11s that are starting, like Devon Outerbridge and Domenico Caporicci, they're holding their own."
Glendale's Kevin Arnel, a fifth-year player and first-year starting quarterback, agreed with the 'amazing winning feeling.' Being a major contributor made it even more memorable.
"Before, as the backup, it was kind of a vagueness," said Arnel. "Now it's like I contributed."
At the same time, for the graduating players it's bittersweet.
"Bittersweet," nodded Liam Spencer, describing the feeling of playing his last high school game.
"Obviously pretty amazing to not just win this one, but to win three of these in a row, five Bowl Games in five years... I think our total record in five years was 36-5. Like I said, it's a bittersweet feeling for sure because some of these guys won't be playing ball any more. Most of these guys, we'll never play together again. It's pretty sad just to look back at it, but at the same time, it's pretty special."
Although Arnel plans to try out for his university football ball team next year, he knows it will be challenge making the team.
"I don't think I'll make it, but... why not, right?"
That means Arnel potentially just played his last football game.
"I'm not going to lie, it's pretty sad. Especially since I've been playing how many seasons – I started with minor football. It may have come to an end. It's sad."
"It is sad," Cooper agreed.
"It's a general feeling that's different from any other sport," said Arnel. "It's a sense of community and a sense of family. All of them are your brothers. But you have that certain group – for us it was the fifth-year players who kind of stuck together."
"If you look at a sport like hockey or soccer, individual talent can get you to success," said Spencer. "If you look at someone like Malachi Morris (soccer) or Gus Ford or Brett Parsons (hockey), they immediately boost that team and take them places. But with football, you get someone like Mike Ram, he's as much as his offensive line. And the quarterback is as much as his offensive line and his receivers. Defence, linebackers can't do their job without the d-line. Secondary can't do their job without the front seven.
"It's not the skill on the field, it's the fact that your brothers on the field are doing what they're supposed to. That's how you get the win," Spencer summed up. "It's not single talent."