First Posted: 12/12/2009
WINSTON-SALEM The referees signal that the two-point conversion attempt of Wallace-Rose Hills Omar Carr signaled not only the end of Saturdays NCHSAA 1A football game, but the end of Mount Airys 31-game winning streak that dated back to last year, when the Granite Bears emerged from the championship game victorious.
The nearly two-season long streak that captivated the fans of this small town has been a topic talked about from barbershops to the grocery line. But it was the furthest thing from the minds of captains Brooks Mayberry and Luke Wheeler after suffering their first defeat in two seasons. And that philosophy of ignoring everything thats going on except what is right in front of them was a key ingredient to the Granite Bears success.
To be honest, I really wasnt thinking about the streak, said Mayberry, who had five tackles. Its just a bonus. You come out there and you take it one game at a time and what weve managed to do is win one game at a time and it happens to build over the years. Streaks are…
As Mayberry was searching for the right words, Wheeler, who rushed for 80 yards to go with 12 tackles and a pair of sacks, flashed him a quick smile and said, Meant to end. Flanked to either side by Mayberry and head coach Kelly Holder, all three shook their heads in agreement.
It was the ignorance of the streak that made it possible. For the Mount Airy players, it was more about bonding together as a team to reach a common goal. And as clich as it sounds, the coaching staffs ability to keep their players grounded and focused on the task at hand kept the wins coming.
I would say thats one thing weve done as a team through the years is focus on every play every game, said Aaron Culler, a captain on last seasons championship team who made the trip to Winston-Salem to root on his comrades. Quarter by quarter, play by play, we focus on whats going on. Thats one thing coach Holder has done a really good job on. So I never really thought about (the streak). I never really focused on being undefeated. We just kind of focused on the task at hand, whether it was preparing for an opponent or beating an opponent on the field.
Culler said that playing during the string of wins was exhilarating, since it led to the ultimate prize at the end of the season.
It was a lot of fun, he said. Everybody wants to win every game. Thats why you play sports you want to win.
Somewhat soothing to the players and fans was the overtime thriller was a great game in which both teams excelled and brought the best out of one another.
We werent angry with ourselves, Mayberry said. We gave it our all and left it all on the field.
Added Culler: Everybody wants to win, but it was a well-played game by them, it was a well-coached game, everybody did great. Its just unfortunate not to come out with a win. I love all those guys and I commend them for everything theyve done.
Emotions ran high on the field in the immediate aftermath, but Mayberry, Wheeler and Holder, along with the rest of the team, accepted the defeat with grace.
Its a tough loss and as much as you want to kick yourself and say you could have done this and you could have done that…, Wheeler said as he trailed off the thought. But what was more important for me was just making sure that my teammates kept their heads up. And I felt like if I tried to hold myself together it would help them a little bit. Wheeler went on, as his voice quivered slightly and he cleared his throat. Even though we didnt win a state championship and the seasons over, I still want to stay close to these guys and I still want them to respect me. So I guess I was trying to just hold it all together more for them than for myself.
More than the incredible run of victories of the past two seasons, Mount Airy players will miss playing alongside each other. A journey that began for some as early as Pee Wee ended yesterday, but the memories will play on. The Granite Bears have established a brotherhood over a length of time that dwarfs the school-record win streak.
The biggest thing I realized afterwards is Ive got to leave this team behind, Ive got to leave my brothers behind, Wheeler said. We came so close this year and this is probably the closest team Ive been a part of and its been a pleasure being their captain and being their leader and being their brother. So that was the biggest thing for me.
Contact Ed Phillipps at [email protected] or 719-1921.