Surrounded by downcast faces and watery eyes, Bishop Ryan coach Brad Borkhuis stood on the goal line of the west end zone at Herb Parker Stadium.
For a moment, his left foot held firm on the red paint of that elusive 4,800-square-foot rectangle with his right foot planted on the green FieldTurf, straddling the white goal line that betrayed the top-ranked Lions three times Friday night in a 24-17 Class AA state semifinal loss to Wahpeton.
His final postgame speech of the 2013 season lasted longer than usual.
Wahpeton senior quarterback Jack Christensen drags Bishop Ryan junior Jared Will into the end zone Friday at Herb Parker Stadium.
But there wasn't much to say.
"On the field they battled, like a band of brothers, they battled," Borkhuis said in a soft, heartbroken whisper. "I'm extremely proud of them for that."
Three defensive stands put the Huskies (10-1) in the Dakota Bowl for the first time since 1998 and sent Ryan (10-1) packing.
In a state semifinal, you'd expect nothing less.
"We did a lot of good things," Borkhuis said. "In the end, it comes down to them little things. As we look at the grand scheme of things, in life or on the field, it comes down to the little things making up to be big things."
The third and final stand came as the clock ticked under four minutes to play in the contest.
With Wahpeton leading 24-14 - the first two-possession deficit the Lions faced all year - the Huskies barricaded Ryan senior quarterback Austin Eggl from the end zone on first-and-goal from the 10, second-and-goal from the 5 and third-and-goal from the 2.
"Wahpeton had a great scheme, props to them," Ryan senior lineman Mason Kramer said. "They blitzed us, beat us up front on those drives. We just couldn't do anything about it."
Ryan settled for a field goal, used two timeouts and forced a punt. On the ensuing drive, the Lions drove 29 yards to the Huskies' 26-yard line with 1:20 left, but Eggl's pass on fourth-and-9 fell off the mark and their promising season elapsed as Wahpeton ran out the clock.
The first stand, which came in the final minute of the first half with Ryan ahead 14-8, gave the Huskies new life.
Ryan senior Nick Berentson picked off Wahpeton quarterback Jack Christensen - the senior signal-caller's second interception and third turnover of the opening half - and returned it 35 yards inside the red zone.
Two plays later, Eggl lost a yard on a botched snap on first-and-goal from the 7. Senior running back Braden Kalamaha ran for 5 yards on second down. Wahpeton stuffed Eggl at the goal line on third and fourth down - the latter, a rushed play coming nine seconds before halftime.
"The one before half, I mismanaged a timeout," Borkhuis said. "It's frustrating to make those mistakes."
With Ryan set to receive the ball to open the third quarter, Wahpeton coach Brian Dokken said the Huskies dodged a major bullet.
"It was one of those things where we made a mistake on offense and the guys just came back and made up for it on defense," the fourth-year coach said. "It was huge for us to go into half down one score. We go into half down two (scores), we're in a huge hole."
The other goal-line stand came midway through the third quarter, two drives after Wahpeton swung the momentum fully in its favor.
Christensen capped a four-play, 54-yard drive - highlighted by senior tailback Brock Lingen's 48-yard burst inside the Ryan 5 - with a QB sneak from 1 yard out.
The Huskies noticed Ryan had only 10 players on the field for the ensuing kickoff, then squibbed and recovered an onside kick. And scored seven plays later on a Lingen 4-yard run to extend its lead to 24-14.
Two possessions later, Ryan - feeling its season slipping away - put together its best drive of the second half.
But after a run for no gain on second down from the 3-yard line, Eggl tossed an incomplete pass on third down and was picked off by Wahpeton senior lineman Mike Dassenko on fourth down.
"Those three drives where we just couldn't punch it in there," Kramer said, "I would just say it was mostly frustrating when you realize it's fourth down."
Eggl carried 28 times for 153 yards and a touchdown to lead Ryan, but struggled through the air, converting 10 of 29 passes for 102 yards.
Ryan's other score came on a 34-yard pitch pass from Brody Bosch to Berentson early in the first quarter. Berentson caught seven balls for a game-high 104 yards.
Lingen rushed for 125 yards on 19 carries for Wahpeton - the second 100-yard rusher the Lions allowed all season.
Ryan outgained Wahpeton 385-232, proving just how costly those three goal-line stands were.
Ryan's senior class is its finest in years - certainly of Borkhuis' four-year tenure. He said they have a once-struggling program back on track.
"They helped rebuild a foundation," Borkhuis said. "Any great program or any great anything has to have a great foundation. These guys built it on the right aspects: on values, on the right things."
Ryan Holmgren covers high school sports and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.