Pacing frantically about his living room, George Hoffman found a soul mate in his radio. Nothing else mattered at the moment except for the play-by-play of his beloved Culpeper High School football team's playoff game against four-time defending state champion Hampton.
Hoffman, 53, closed his eyes as Hampton attempted a field goal in overtime that would either send the Virginia AAA Division 5 semifinal game into another extra session, or give his Blue Devils a 20-17 upset.
As the kick sailed wide right, Hoffman turned euphoric.
"I was so excited," said Hoffman, who has lived in Culpeper (pop. 8,964) for 33 years. He is not a graduate of Culpeper High, but that didn't temper his elation. "I was thinking to myself about how we were all going to go down to Richmond for the championship [this Saturday]. But then it hit me.
"We've got the wedding."
Hoffman's daughter, Kelly, is getting married Saturday afternoon, two hours after kickoff of Culpeper's Division 5 championship game against Henrico at University of Richmond Stadium.
"I'm going to have a radio close by all day," he said. "And I'll be walking down the aisle with plugs in my ears listening to it."
Don't doubt his intentions. The Blue Devils are one of the ties that bind this town together, and after pulling one of the biggest upsets in Virginia football history last weekend, the bonds have grown only tighter.
"That's all people are talking about on the street. It's the buzz around town," said Alan Gilmore, 40, owner of Gilmore's Service Station on Main Street. "I've lived here my whole life, and I've never seen anything like this. Not just sports--anything."
Congratulations and well wishes are being extended to the Blue Devils throughout the town. Hotel marquees, T-shirts, mugs, banners. Even church.
"We were cheering them on in church on Sunday," said Tonya Gilbert, a waitress at Dee Dee's Restaurant on Main Street. "Even though they are the Devils."
Culpeper's Main Street has two traffic lights and is lined with family-owned shops. Walk into a store and chances are you know the owner, the owner knows you, and a good story will be shared. At this time of the year, holiday lights are sprinkled on light fixtures and telephone poles, further warming the image.
Culpeper High, with an enrollment approaching 1,200, is the only high school in a county of 28,000. It sits across a parking lot from the county's lone junior high. Culpeper High is a small school with enormous ambitions. Its football team's story is the movie "Hoosiers" played out on the gridiron.
"It's sort of amazing how this has brought everyone together," Blue Devils senior linebacker Daniel Winning said. "This is something the people of Culpeper can really call their own. So we're playing not just for ourselves and our coaches, but for the whole community."
Culpeper has never won a state championship. The closest it ever came was in 1941, when district alignments were drastically different. The Blue Devils defeated Deep Creek, 30-0, to win the Virginia Class C Western Division title.
"I thought that was the greatest game ever," said Wessy Gilmore, Alan's father and a center on the 1941 team. Father and son drove Saturday to Hampton to see the game. "But that was until last weekend. I must have called about a dozen people [from outside Culpeper] Sunday morning to tell them I just saw the greatest football game of my life."
Pete Morris, 79, was a volunteer assistant on that 1941 team and has supported the Blue Devils ever since. Last Saturday, while out deer hunting, he had the radio on softly, so that his prey wouldn't be scared off. After a while, he couldn't hear the game well enough, so he went back to his car to hear the final minutes.
"You just don't have things like this happen in a small country town," Morris said.
As in "Hoosiers," success began with the hiring of a driven head coach. Lou Sorrentino arrived in Culpeper in 1992.
A native of Hershey, Pa., Sorrentino had spent the previous four years at George Mason High in Falls Church, first as an assistant, then as head coach the last two years. Prior to that, he assisted for six years at Stafford High. Sorrentino's first three Culpeper teams went 5-5, and his 1995 squad went 6-4. Then the Blue Devils were bumped up from Group AA to AAA, the classification for the largest schools in the state.
"You would think it wouldn't have worked out for us," Sorrentino said about moving up a level. "But that's when things came together."
Each of the four seasons the Blue Devils have been in Group AAA, they have been district champions, posting records of 9-2, 10-2, 9-3, and this year's 13-0.
Prior to this season, Sorrentino, a history teacher, was offered an administrative position at the school. A less stressful job and a higher salary seemed to be what he wanted. But it meant he had to give up coaching football.
"I wish I had a crystal ball to see what this season was going to turn into," he said. "But even without it, I'm not ready to give up football. I couldn't imagine a fall without football."
Neither could Culpeper's fans.
"This all wouldn't have been possible without Lou," said Alan Gilmore, who attends nearly every home game. "Since Lou has been here, it's just been growing every year. He was the one that put this all together. We're starting a winning tradition now.
"More kids are going to come out and play because they see how successful Lou has been with this program. I've got two girls, [ages] 7 and 5, and they're more excited to go to the games than I am. They ask me every week, 'Daddy, are we going to the football game Friday?' "
The excitement is also palpable at Culpeper High. Going to football games for students used to be a thing to do if there was nothing else to do. Around midseason that sentiment started to change.
"After like the fifth or sixth game, a lot more students and faculty started coming out," said sophomore Tim Jackson. "Now they're there to see the football game, not just to hang out where there's a lot of people."
Senior Nicole Peppe, who admitted to not being a huge football fan, said: "There's definitely more spirit in the school. We're getting into it. Everyone is making plans to go" to Richmond.
Now the youngest Culpeper kids have local role models.
"Monday morning, we were running laps in my gym class," said Dave Richardson, a physical education teacher at Farmington Elementary School and also an assistant on Sorrentino's staff. "I had kids running around saying to one another, 'I'm Culpeper, you're Hampton, try to catch me.' "
Everyone in Culpeper is trying to catch a piece of this team. For so long, they have had to go outside of their town to find their heroes, their celebrities, people that can make these residents stick out their chests and beam with pride. Culpeper wide receiver Terence Dinkins was shocked by the welcome mat the town rolled out as the team buses arrived late Saturday night.
"When we got into town, there were fans waiting at the school," Dinkins said. "There were cars that followed our buses when we drove down Main Street, and they were all honking their horns and cheering in the streets. I've seen cars with writing on them, like 'Shock the world.' I've never seen anything like that."
Senior quarterback Mike Jenkins said: "I've had people come up to me who I have never seen, people who I don't know, just coming up to me on the street or in church, just patting me on the back and telling me, 'Great game, we're real proud of you.'
"And now there's people outside of Culpeper who are starting to realize that, 'Hey, this Culpeper school must not be all that bad.' I think with every game, we're gaining more and more people's respect."
Thom O'Connell, who owns Triple Image, a screen-printing and embroidery store in Culpeper, wanted to make up T-shirts with the team photo for the Blue Devils after they went 12-0 and won the Commonwealth District title Nov. 13. Now Culpeper clothing has become haute couture in town.
In the first six hours of business following Saturday's victory, O'Connell said he sold 300 T-shirts, 40 sweatshirts, 60 mugs, 24 mouse pads and several calendars, banners and car flags emblazoned with the team photo and logo.
"It's something that not everybody gets a chance to experience," said O'Connell, who is giving all proceeds from the merchandise to the school. "When something like this comes along, you take a great deal of civic pride in it. It doesn't matter whether or not you like football."
Saturday would be a poor time to visit Culpeper.
The only people around will be at the wedding of George Hoffman's daughter. While they'll all likely be tuned into the game on radio, many of the remaining residents will trek down to Richmond to see if they can continue to "shock the world." The rest will stay at home, finding that perfect spot on the radio dial that gets the best reception of the game.
"If ever a town could be heard around the world, it was Culpeper on [last] Saturday," said Linda Duncan, mother of senior offensive lineman Brian Duncan. "There's a glow right now about this town."
Va. AAA Div. 5 Final
Who: Culpeper (13-0) vs. Henrico (12-1).
Where: University of Richmond Stadium.
Kickoff: 1 p.m.