COLUMBIA -- It wasn't what anyone expected, but for Chester and its 17 seniors who pulled on the Cyclone red, white and blue for the final time, the 14-12 loss to Wilson in the Class AAA State Championship game was a culmination of a four-year turnaround.
Four years ago, Chester coach Victor Floyd inherited a team that went 0-10 in 2003. In his first three seasons, he led the Cyclones to records of 2-9, 6-5 and 7-4. Chester's season ends at 12-3 after a disappointing loss to the Tigers.
"I just hate that it didn't end like we wanted it to," Floyd said while walking off the field at Williams-Brice Stadium. "It was in our hands and we just weren't able to finish it."
Both teams entered the Saturday night's Class AAA State Championship game touting powerful, quick-strike offenses, and after a 14-6 first-half, the game could have gone two directions.
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Chester's offense could have settled down and showed signs of the attack that rolled up 130 points in the past four games or the Cyclones could continue to struggle finding a rhythm on both sides of the ball.
The latter happened, but C.C. Whitlock and his 16 senior teammates accomplished what Floyd said was possible when he took over the program when they were freshmen.
"Coach told us our freshman year that if we worked hard enough, we would be the team that would make it to state," said Whitlock, who is expected to officially commit to South Carolina this week.
Terrell Springs, who put Chester ahead 6-0 on a 1-yard run in the first quarter, and Gene McCaskill are also headed to Division I schools next fall to continue their football careers. Floyd says he expects six or seven more players to end up on collegiate rosters in the coming months. Springs is off to Alabama-Birmingham and McCaskill's headed to Kentucky.
"We had the game," said Springs, who finished with 14-yards rushing on 4 carries, "and we let it go. They wanted it more. We could have scored more points, but it was a team thing that we didn't."
McCaskill knows the work the past four years will not be all for naught.
"This season was a big step for our program," he said. "The underclassmen, I hope they come back (next year) knowing what it feels like (to be here) and show the town that we can win."
"We had a great season and we all wish we could have won it, but we finished second," said McCaskill, who led the Cyclones with 167 total yards and a touchdown pass.
It certainly was a big step for Chester, not only the school but the community, too. The Cyclones last played in a state championship in 1963 -- a win over Eau Claire. Saturday night shouldn't be looked at as a loss.
Regardless of what showed on the scoreboard, Chester won; the community united behind this team all season, and it won, too.