SCHUYLER — As the closing seconds ticked off the clock, the cheers that had been building finally erupted.
Students rushed onto the field to embrace members of the Schuyler football team, which accomplished something Friday night that hadn't happened in five years.
The Warriors beat South Sioux City 21-18 to snap a 45-game losing streak.
It was the final game of the season, the last opportunity for the seniors to taste victory.
The celebration that followed the nerve-wracking finale showed the victory was pretty sweet, not only for the players and coaches, but the entire school.
Schuyler's winless drought was the second-longest active streak in the state and longest in 11-man football.
“It’s been a process. Of course we’ve had a lot of ups and downs with our program. We’ve had doubters, we’ve had negative people, but our kids stuck together. We’ve been a family the whole way. We knew it was going to come together. We knew this moment was going to come,” said Schuyler head coach Aaron Thumann.
The victory didn't come easy.
South Sioux City, which hasn't won a game since beating Schuyler 54-6 in last year's regular-season finale, led 12-7 at halftime.
Thumann didn’t have to say anything to his players during halftime to get them motivated. They motivated each other.
“They knew it was their turn. They were confident all week. We had a great JV win on Monday and that just helped fuel the fire. Our seniors were like, ‘This streak is done,’” Thumann said.
Senior quarterback Kevin Contreras said the Warrior players believe in each other and think of themselves as a family.
He also gave credit to the coach who has stood with them as they tried to get that elusive win.
“I just feel like all the hard work we’ve put in for four years has paid off. Our coach has been our head coach for four years. We were the class that has been there the whole time. To us, he’s our guy,” Contreras said.
Schuyler scored twice in the second half to build a 21-12 lead.
With less than five minutes to play, the Cardinals scored a touchdown to pull within a field goal.
South Sioux City made one final push with time running out, but couldn’t convert on a fourth-down play.
The Warriors took a knee to run the final seconds off the clock.
Then the band, cheerleaders and students lined up near the sideline rushed onto the field to celebrate. Thumann was doused with water by his players. Tears of both joy and relief were shed.
“I’m so hyped right now, but I’ll probably be crying later,” senior Jackson Settles said.
His classmate Mason Kovar was already in tears.
“There’s nothing better than having two seniors come out with a win on the final game of the season,” he said.
The two said they had a feeling the team would break through this year because this group of players is special.
Kovar believes the victory will have a lasting impact.
“It’s a big boost of confidence, not only for us but for the underclassmen and everyone else. It’s amazing and I think it will carry on to next season,” he said.
“It means only positive things. Our kids know they can be successful. They know they don’t have to lose anymore. It’s not that way anymore. We deserve to win and we are going to win,” he said.
Thumann and his players were prepared for a tough game with both teams giving it their all, but the opportunity meant more to the Warriors.
All week, Thumann said he heard the same thing from his players — “We got this, coach.”
They did have it, and Thumann gave all the praise to his players for accomplishing something no Schuyler team had since 2012.
“To me, it is about these kids. There is nothing more that I wanted for these kids than this moment right here because they worked so hard," he said. "You go around and people would say that it’s just another football game. But no, this is not just another football game. This is our time."