The final time. That's all Maurice Hampton could think about Saturday morning.
The final team meal before the final bus ride to the final locker room to the final game.
Hampton began to worry. Kickoff was hours away, and already he was breaking down.
But those emotions were tame. After Hampton and his Phoebus teammates defeated Edison 34-25 for the Division 5 state title, the corks popped
with nary a champagne bottle in sight.
Dominik Davenport, Hampton's running mate on the offensive and defensive lines, waved a Phoebus flag as he trotted up and down the field. Hampton, his smile James River-wide, embraced anyone and everyone.
But it was Haroon Brown, the personification of toughness and the mirror image of his old-school coach, who best expressed the moment. And he did so without words, mobbed by friends and well-wishers, tears streaming down his cheeks.
It was that kind of season. That kind of game.
A season in which the Phantoms learned from a midseason loss. A game in which they survived a record- setting quarterback.
Once he gathered himself, Brown thanked his mom for working so hard to make his transfer from Virginia Beach's First Colonial High possible. He credited his teammates, especially his close friend Dennis Mathis.
Brown, a senior, plays fullback and linebacker. He earns his keep blocking for Mathis, the Phantoms' 2,000- yard tailback, and jarring opposing quarterbacks.
Saturday he left his mark lugging the ball. He gained a season-high 138 yards, rumbled for two short touchdowns and produced the longest play from scrimmage.
It came on a third-and-1 midway through the final quarter. Phoebus was nursing a 28-25 lead and hoping against hope that Edison quarterback Shawn Lloyd's right arm would fall off from fatigue.
Brown took a simple inside handoff and vanished among a horde of defenders, only to re-emerge in the secondary running by his lonesome. By the time defensive back Drew Baldwin chased him down, Brown had gained 49 yards to the Edison 10, setting up the game's final touchdown.
"I don't know how he got out of there," Dee marveled. "I just wanted a first down."
"I wish I was a little faster," Brown said.
Lack of breakaway speed notwithstanding, Brown's size (6 feet, 245 pounds) and talent should project to a college scholarship. Alas, interest has been minimal.
"If somebody doesn't come in here and sweep him up, something's wrong with college football," coach Bill Dee said. "He's been unstoppable in the playoffs."
An unstoppable fullback on an unflappable team. After an October whipping from city rival Hampton, Phoebus closed with seven consecutive victories.
In four playoff games the Phantoms committed only one turnover -- that on special teams -- and forced nine. Saturday they had none, while Reid Evans intercepted two of Lloyd's passes.
Heaven knows what might have transpired without those picks. Lloyd threw for three touchdowns and a title- game-record 341 yards, often evading Phoebus' pass rush at the last possible second.
"It was crazy," linebacker Darius McMillan said. "You'd think you had him, but you didn't. He's elusive, and his speed is very, very deceptive. His ability to escape pressure is incredible. But in the end, we got him."
Indeed, Phoebus sacked Lloyd eight times, six in the second half. On the Eagles' final possession, Alandus Beggs, Aaron Hawkins and McMillan recorded sacks.
"This game was everything," McMillan said.
And had darn near everything, from a kick return for touchdown (Phoebus' Hawkins) to the ultimate conformist (Dee) going all left-wing, radical on us. Dee's break- the-mold call came in the second quarter when he had Mathis pull up on a third-and-5 toss sweep and throw a pass to Evans.
The completion covered 37 yards to Edison's 3 and was Mathis' first pass of the season.
"Had that one in my back pocket," Dee grinned.
Two plays later, Brown scored his second touchdown. Two quarters later, he pondered his future.
"I'm going to be on somebody's football team next year," Brown said. "But first, I want to get sized for my ring."