As he walked off the field Saturday afternoon at Darling Memorial Stadium in Hampton, South Lakes senior Daniel Cidone was a study in conflicting emotions.
The quarterback was upset that his team had just lost to Phoebus in the Virginia AAA Division 5 semifinals, and he was somewhat shocked by the glaring 55-0 statement on the scoreboard behind him.
But even as Cidone lamented the end of his high school football career, he couldn't help but crack a smile when he thought about the Seahawks' remarkable run. After posting just one winning season in the past 10 and going 1-8 in 2001, South Lakes finished the regular season 7-3 and won the school's first region title since 1991.
"I'm sad that my football season's over, but we went from 1-8," Cidone said. "We didn't even think that we'd get this far."
Under first-year coach Joe Trabucco, South Lakes (9-4) crafted a winning attitude that helped it prevail in close games. Two-thirds of the Seahawks' victories came by eight points or less, including both in the playoffs -- 14-7 over Edison and 7-2 over W.T. Woodson in the region final.
And though Saturday's game was far from close, South Lakes again showed the mettle that fueled its turnaround season.
"I'm very proud of them," Trabucco said. "They did a super job, and I take my hat off to them. They could have quit a long time ago, and they didn't quit today, they tried. [Phoebus] was just a better team than us today. I don't know if they're that many points better than us, but they're certainly better than us."
The Phantoms, who won for the 25th consecutive time, were probably better than they had been in the past as well. Phoebus won its region title on Friday, Nov. 23, and had an extra week off to prepare for South Lakes and heal some nagging injuries.
"I think the off week helped us," Phoebus Coach Bill Dee said. "I usually don't like off weeks, but with everybody banged up, it worked out."
South Lakes forced and recovered a fumble on the Phantoms' first possession to briefly take the game's momentum. The Seahawks then got an extra set of downs after a roughing the kicker penalty, but they threw an interception that led to the first of six Phoebus touchdowns on six consecutive possessions.
Behind the passing of Cidone and two rushes by Charles Mayah (20 carries, 78 yards), who finished the season with 1,163 yards, South Lakes drove deep into Phoebus territory late in the first half but came up empty as time ran out.
In all, South Lakes turned the ball over six times and had a punt blocked. It was help that the high-powered Phantoms did not need.
"Coach Trabucco did a great job with those kids," Dee said. "He just happened to hit us on a day when we played as well as we can."
Said senior running back William Bussey, who had 96 combined yards rushing and receiving Saturday: "We went from 1-8 to the state semis. That's a big turnaround. We're going to go down in school history for this."