Three seconds away from an incredible come-from-behind victory, Santa Fe South was issued something it had never had before: an excessive celebration penalty.
"What's that?" said coach Jerry Braziel with a laugh. "We don't see those too often. I guess you can't dogpile everybody."
The 15 yards were nothing compared to what the Saints players were feeling. Santa Fe South was down 40-18 early in the fourth quarter at Cushing but scored the final 28 points to pull off the 46-40 win.
It was not just any victory, but the first district win in team history.
Braziel said he won't forget the moment, nor will the players. But there was one person missing from the celebration Friday — former coach Mike Cartmill.
Cartmill, who had helped build the program and build a foundation for Santa Fe South athletics, died in April.
"Man, we wish he could have been there. He would have loved it," Braziel said. "We still really miss him. He deserved that moment."
The Saints have dedicated the season to Cartmill, and they haven't disappointed in their effort.
Despite losses by at least 16 points in the first five district games, opposing coaches Eric Cardin of McLoud and Greg Willis of Harrah were quick to point out the explosiveness of the SFS offense and the heart the team showed.
"That's just these kids," Braziel said. "Down big, doesn't matter. They always play hard. They got that from Mike, and they don't lay down for anybody."
In the fourth quarter, that spirit paid off. It started with a 70-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Jameson Ballinger to Abraham Luna to make it 40-24.
The Saints recovered an onside kick and narrowed the margin to 40-31 on a Ballinger pass to Ivan Zavala.
Then the defense picked up. Josh Covert had 22 tackles and an interception in the game.
Ballinger, who played wide receiver as a freshman and sophomore, caught the first touchdown pass of his career from Zavala after lining up in the Wildcat formation to make it 40-38.
"It was kind of cool to get my first touchdown that way," Ballinger said.
The defense made a goal-line stand, and the team was 95 yards away from history. The Saints converted a couple of fourth downs to put them in striking distance.
Ballinger threw his sixth touchdown of the game on a 36-yard pass to Zavala that caused the celebration penalty.
"I got tackled after I threw the ball," Ballinger said. "I heard people screaming and looked up in disbelief. Best penalty ever."
Zavala had seven catches for 178 yards and three touchdowns. Luna finished with five receptions for 231 yards and three scores.
"That was for Coach Cartmill," Ballinger said. "He's the one that started it off. Give credit to the past teams that helped us get here. That was history for us, what a great feeling. That's what football is all about."