CEDAR FALLS | "Tradition never graduates."
It’s plastered on the equipment trailer and written in the hearts of St. Ansgar football players.
When Alec Staebell rounded the edge just inside the pylon on that final touchdown, Hudson put the nail in the Saints' season with 3 minutes, 10 seconds left to play Friday.
With 8 seconds left, the seniors took their final steps on the field, letting the clock tick away their high school football careers. The lines of obligatory sportsmanship passed through like a conveyor belt as the teams filed away to their separate groups.
Upon receiving the plaque, the seniors stood at the front, walking side-by-side.
“Good group, they won 42 games in their four-year career,” head coach Drew Clevenger said. “Won four district titles, went to playoffs four times, quarterfinals once, semifinals twice. They left their mark on the program no doubt about that.”
Senior Nicholas Bork tried hard to choke back the impending tears. He was trying to make sense of that motto — "Tradition never graduates" — accepting that he was done wearing the red and white football uniform.
“It means we root for the next class,” Bork said. “We’re always Saints, so we keep rooting. They’re going to be successful next year, hopefully we’re down here again.”
Senior Dayton Smith capped a historic year, adding 109 yards rushing on 24 attempts. He finished with 1,594 yards rushing this season and a school-record career total of 3,410 yards.
What could’ve been better? A state final appearance, maybe a championship.
“When we first came out, we saw a lot of people that were the ones that thought we’d never make it,” Smith said. “Kids from other schools, and you know, when we first walked out, it was nice to think about that.”
The Saints started off strong in what seemed like a shootout in the first half. A 56-yard touchdown run by the Pirates was answered by a breakaway 83-yard run by senior Josh Van Vliet just three plays later.
Van Vliet broke the tackles and headed straight down the center with no one in sight. He adjusted his grip, maintained his stride to grab the first touchdown. But Van Vliet (who had a 1,011-yard season) would fall from grace in the second quarter with a game-ending injury. He finished with 91 yards on five carries, but the offense felt his absence in the second half.
“It was really hard to get back going again because Josh is a big part of our offense,” Smith said. “And we can’t get all of our pieces moving, then it’s a lot harder to get our offense get moving. We couldn’t get our offense moving, so it was hard to get the momentum back for the second half.”
Although the the Saints defied the predictions of many, Clevenger stayed true to the standards of his team.
“Disappointing, we weren’t done, nobody expected this except us,” Clevenger said. “I think that’s part of the reason we’re here, we exceeded everybody’s expectations but our own, so it’s bittersweet proud of what the kids accomplished, but disappointed it ended here for them.”
The seniors will never play together again, but in those final moments when a loss was certain, there’s one thing they will remember.
“I’m definitely banking on next year’s team to make it this far, you know?” Smith said. “I’ll never be one of the guys to doubt the team.”