As the Airport team gathered in the end zone for the last time, the tears flowing down their cheeks told the story.
A memorable season and came to a halt in a 33-22 loss to Lake City in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs Friday night.
The Eagles were unbeaten in the regular season and then had a storybook comeback and won in overtime to advance out of the first round last week. But this time, even with North-South All-Star selection W.T. Murden throwing the final touchdown of his career with seven seconds remaining, there would be no dramatic ending.
"We accomplished a lot but are very upset tonight," Airport coach Kirk Burnett said. "But don't take anything away from these guys. We're proud of them, and they put up numbers that might not ever be matched at this school."
Airport was done in by a Panthers rushing attack that came in averaging over 300 yards a game and racked up over 400 a week ago in its playoff opener. Junior Shon Carson was the workhorse with 31 carries for 273 yards to pace a Lake City attack that finished with 442 yards on the ground.
"Defensively, I thought that was how it was going to be," Burnett said. "They are stronger and faster than us, and we missed tackles that we shouldn't have."
Lake City coach Justin Gentry felt like he had an advantage coming in with wet field conditions after a few days of rain.
"We went with what we trust, and that is our feet," Gentry said. "I could sit here and talk about Shon all day because he is a great player, but our guys up front did a great job. We matched them tackle to tackle and did what we had to do to win the ballgame."
Burnett pointed out two series that he thought hurt the Eagles. They took the opening kickoff and drove to the Panthers' 22-yard line, but a fourth-down pass fell incomplete.
Lake City's only misstep occurred in the first half when it fumbled inside the Airport 20 on its opening possession. After getting the ball back following a three-and-out, the Panthers grinded out a nine-play, 55-yard drive that was capped by a 4-yard run by DaShawn Butler to give the Panthers the lead.
Carson gave the visitors a 14-0 lead with a 4-yard run to end a 12-play, 71-yard march.
But like last week, when the Eagles were down 28-10 just before the half, Murden connected with Derek Cushman on a 14-yard scoring strike with 24 seconds remaining before the half to give Airport life.
Carson quickly made it a two-score game again when he bolted up the middle for a 79-yard score on the third play of the second half. Airport answered with a 5-yard scoring run by Ryan Smith before Carson scored his third touchdown, on a 9-yard run, with 4:39 remaining in the third quarter.
The Eagles had a chance to answer, but a miscommunication on second down from the 2-yard line resulted in a loss of 6 yards, and two incompletion passes forced the Eagles to turn the ball over on downs.
"We had to score on that first drive of the game, which we didn't," Burnett said. "Then right at the start of the fourth quarter we went the wrong way and didn't score, and those two possessions cost us the game."
Murden finished 11-for-25 for 111 yards. He wasn't sacked but was under constant pressure and was hit nearly every time he threw a pass. Murden rushed for 84 yards on 13 carries.
Lake City salted it away with a 12-yard scoring run by Antwon Wallace with less than three minutes remaining.
Lake City 0 14 13 6 - 33
Airport 0 7 7 8 - 22
LC - DaShawn Butler 4 run (Butler kick) 10:33
LC - Shon Carson 4 run (Butler kick) 3:28
AIR - Derek Cushman 14 pass from W.T. Murden (Austin Jordan kick) :24
LC - Carson 79 run (Butler kick) 10:54
AIR - Ryan Smith 5 run (Jordan kick) 6:33
LC - Carson 9 run (kick blocked) 4:39
LC - Antwon Wallace 12 run (kick failed) 2:59
AIR - Josh Salley 2 pass from Murden (Salley pass from Murden) :07
First Downs 18 18
Rushes 53-442 37-229
Passing 7 111
Comp-Att-Int 2-4-0 11-25-1
Punts 1-37 2-39
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 0-0
Penalties 6-70 4-39
Rushing: LC - Shon Carson 31-273, Sheldon Robinson 7-61, DaShawn Butler 7-53, Kevin Brand 1-42, Antwon 2-12, Cody Cooper 5-1. AIR - Ryan Smith 19-114, W.T. Murden 13-84, Davon Howell 5-31.
Passing: LC - Butler 2-4-0-7. AIR - Murden 11-25-1-111.
Receiving: LC - Robinson 1-9, Cooper 1-(-2). AIR - Derek Cushman 2-51, Josh Salley 4-12, Deonne Hopkins 3-36, Smith 1-5, Howell 1-4.