Chester coach Victor Floyd leads his team in prayer on the field at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia on Saturday after their loss to Wilson.
Chester coach Victor Floyd leads his team in prayer on the field at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia on Saturday after their loss to Wilson.

COLUMBIA -- As the final seconds ticked away and the Wilson High School players celebrated their victory in the Class AAA state championship game over Chester High School, the 16-year-old wearing a shirt with an O on it -- as in part of "Go Cyclones" -- didn't leave his spot.

Neither did his 17-year-old buddy, with broken streaks of red paint -- as in the Cyclone colors of red and blue -- smeared across his face.

"You still gotta support the team," said Ian Baertlein, the guy with the paint. "Whether they win or lose."

Then, Daniel Wallace, the guy with the O on his shirt, said what Cyclone fans yelled in the pre-game tailgates when they went into the locker room down by eight points, when they came back to within two points of tying the game and here, in the early moments of defeat.

"It's brought spirit and hope to the town, community and school," Wallace said.

It is this team, this group of kids and coaches who brought truck drivers, pastors, steel workers, politicians and teachers to Williams-Brice Stadium.

If football were a religion, this team has many believers. And no one in the congregation missed the Saturday night service.

"Chester ... is shut down right now," said Keith Taylor, the 37-year-old pastor of Sandy River Baptist Church in Chester. "Everybody's down here in Columbia supporting the team."

Taylor was with a crowd across the street from the stadium tailgating before the game. The group -- which grew through word of mouth -- sported blue and red camping chairs, a big cooker and plenty of burgers, hash and porkchops.

One of the guys eating was William "Budda" Killian, a 42-year-old Chester truck driver who played for the Cyclones in his day.

"It means a whole lot," he said of this team's success. "This is going to bring us together."

In another part of the parking lot, 32-year-old brothers Ronald and Donald Stevenson were manning matching grills, Ronald working the bratwurst and Donald flipping burgers. When they played for Chester in the early 1990s, they were called the "twin towers."

Chester has had talented players in the past, the brothers said, but this year's team played with a passion that brought not only winning, but a sense of unity.

"It took the right coach at the right time to make it happen," Donald said.

One guy was wandering through the cars eating chicken and yelling "Go Cyclones!"

"White, black, Chinese, Puerto Rican ... everybody's supporting the team," said 34-year-old Gabriel Tobias. "It's been a long time coming."

Taylor Roof, a 17-year-old Chester High senior and softball player, thought she had seen victory in the sky before the game. With her cell phone, she snapped a picture of a cloud that looked like a cyclone.

Her friend, Rebekah Kerr, a junior who just turned 17, hoped she would get a late birthday present. Heather Wilson, a Lewisville High School cheerleader, even wore a Cyclone shirt for a day.

Fans seemed surprised by the how contagious Chester football has become.

"I didn't know that there were this many people in Chester," said Chester alumnus and former band member Will McBrayer just before kickoff.

Susan Boyd, a Chester native whose daughter plays softball for the school and whose son played football from 1998 to 2001, waived her white clanking noisemaker before the game.

"This has been the whole talk of the town for a couple of weeks now," she said of the football team. "It's kind of like a shot in the arm."

During the game, one voice that kept going was that of Billy Reed, whose son, Joseph, plays on the team.

Even when Chester was down, he kept yelling, "Get your minds right!"

As the outcome of the game became obvious, Cyclone fan Corey Wright stood by the team.

"This is the biggest thing ever for Chester," he said.

"Win or lose," he added.

The loss stung, but folks like Vernard Boulware clapped anyway.

Not just because his stepson, Terrell Springs, plays for Chester. But this year, with this team, in this community, something special happened.

"It has brought every individual (together) as a whole," he said.

Go to heraldonline.com for expanded coverage of Saturday's game:

• Video highlights

• Photo gallery