Two years ago, Xavier Holmes walked off the Colonial Area floor after what was considered to be the worst game of his three-year high school career. He suffered through miserable shooting performance as the Red Devils dropped a 66-58 state championship loss to Hemingway.
Holmes, along with senior classmate Shaquille Simpson, are the lone players remaining from that team. Both never forgot that painful experience, and since then, made amends with two straight Class A championships, the latest being a 79-61 victory over Johnsonville Saturday afternoon.
The senior duo more than made amends for the dreadful performance two years ago with perhaps one of the most memorable highlights in state championship history, one worthy of a Top-10 Highlight on ESPN's SportsCenter.
Holmes went up for a one-handed slam on a half-court set, but his shot was pinned against the glass by Johnsonville forward Aaron Mack. That brought the Johnsonville fans to their feet and eventually led to Erion Black scoring a hoop after grabbing an offensive rebound.
"They talked a little trash to me," Holmes said in response to getting his dunk attempt rejected. "They said that stuff was weak and to get that out of here. Of course, that gave me motivation. I wanted to show them that my stuff was not weak. So I had to make a statement."
Holmes immediately showed his strength by slamming home an offensive rebound attempt to put the Red Devils ahead by eight, 43-35.
Then, came the signature moment, one which will be talked about for a long time in the rich Great Falls basketball history.
On the next Red Devil possession, Simpson dribbled toward half-court, and then fired a lengthy pass, which appeared to be too high for Holmes. However, the 6-5 forward adjusted himself in midair for the one-handed grab.
With his body twisted, Holmes readjusted himself to control the ball, and simultaneously threw down a monster alley-oop dunk, sending the entire crowd into a frenzy.
The Colonial Center jumbo-monitor replayed the dunk three times afterwards, and each time, the crowd roared louder.
"I throw that pass to him every day in practice," Simpson said in a confident manner. "I knew he would go up and get it. We just saved it for today."
Even Great Falls coach John Smith, who had seen thousands of plays during his 43 year career, marveled at the play.
"I have seen many dunks, but none like that when someone had to use their athleticism to catch the ball and make the dunk."
"That changed the entire scope of the game. After that, we got up on our toes and stepped it up defensively, and began playing at another level."
The highlight was the exclamation point on outstanding performances from Holmes and Simpson, who finished with 22 and 10 points respectively in a balanced Red Devil attack that featured all five starters in double figures.
Seniors Ernest Talford and Brandon Criscoe added 22 and 12 points, and sophomore Jemarcus Culp added 13 to give the Red Devils back-to-back titles-the 10thoverall in the school's rich tradition.
After the pain of the 2010 defeat, Holmes and Simpson vowed to never again be denied.
"That overall experience gave me motivation and showed me how to be a leader," Holmes added.
"It did not feel good," Simpson said. "But that did nothing but motivate me to say that if we ever get back to the Colonial Center, we would not lose again."
"When you are a freshman or sophomore, it is very tough to come in this type of atmosphere and play well," Smith added. "It is usually your juniors and seniors who are better able to handle this.
"Our seniors have been able to do that the past couple of years; so I guess you can say that they have more than redeemed themselves," from the 2010 loss.