With tears welling in his eyes, Catholic High coach Greg Seibert looked toward the ground at Boot Hill Stadium on Friday night, let out a sigh that dripped equal parts sorrow and heartache, and stated the obvious:
"Every single player that put a Crusader jersey on tonight, I could not be more proud of them, because we left it all on the field," he said. "Unfortunately, that wasn't good enough."
In another instant classic that now defines this rivalry, Madison County was able to convert a field goal in overtime and Catholic wasn't. The powerhouse Cowboys won the Region 1-3A title and advanced to the state semifinals after surviving a 17-14 thriller.
During the regular season, Madison County traveled to Pensacola and outlasted the Crusaders, 29-28 in overtime, at Gorecki-LeBeau Stadium.
The two overtime games with one team in the same season had never happened before in the history of a Cowboys program that has won two state championships and finished second twice in the past decade.
A two-point conversion decided the first game. This time, Zach Money's 27-yard field goal on the first possession of overtime was the difference.
"First thing I told Coach Seibert after the game was we didn't deserve to win," Madison County coach Mike Coe said. "(Catholic) put forth an unbelievable effort, but somehow we persevered. I don't know how, but we did."
Trailing 14-7 at halftime, Catholic (8-4) scored what proved to be the final points of regulation by opening the second half with a dynamite 11-play drive that covered 67 yards. Simon Smiley -- who broke free from 10 yards out for the Crusaders' first touchdown in the second quarter -- plowed in from the 3 to tie the game at the 6:54 mark.
After that, the game turned into a defensive struggle.
Returning state runner-up Madison County (11-1) had six possessions in the second half -- three 3-and-outs, one that ended on an interception and another on a failed 4th-and-3 play at the Catholic 26-yard line.
But the Cowboys' last drive of regulation looked like it would be enough as the team drove 65 yards to the Crusaders' 14 with :02 showing on the clock. Money's 30-yard attempt went wide right to extend the game to overtime.
Money, however, didn't miss in overtime after Madison County ran three plays for minus-1 yard. Catholic ran three plays for minus-2 yards in OT. Bram Majewski's 29-yard attempt never had a chance as two Cowboys were in the backfield before the ball ever left his foot.
Keon Bruton, who rushed for a game-high 159 yards, scored the first touchdown for Madison County from 50 yards early in the second quarter while D.J. Knight had a 4-yard scoring run just before the half.
After that, the Cowboys' only opportunities belonged to the right leg of Money.
Catholic -- now 0-6 all-time against Madison County in the playoffs -- was led by Smiley, who had 20 carries for 97 yards and two scores. Quarterback Cody Henry completed 13-of-23 passes for 87 yards.
"We had some opportunities, but just a lack of execution, a missed play here and there; we had a chance to end this in regulation," Seibert said. "But this is a loss that will resonate. This will be a game that will be talked about in the annals of Catholic High football.
"There's no moral victories, but the games with them this year, they prove we're a football team to be reckoned with in the state of Florida. That's our future. That's what we take from this."
At Madison County
MADISON CO. 17, CATHOLIC 14 (OT)
Catholic...0 7 7 0 0--14
Madison...0 14 0 0 3--17
MC -- Keon Bruton 50 run (Zach Money kick), 11:51.
C -- Simon Smiley 10 run (Bram Majewski kick), 9:24.
MC -- D.J. Knight 4 run (Money kick), 2:48.
C -- Smiley 3 run (Majewski kick), 6:54.
MC -- Money 27 FG.