GLENDALE - There were some wet eyes as the Kingman football players walked, heads down, away from the post-game huddle.
Some players stopped to exchange hugs with their parents, coaches or teammates.
Above them hung a cloud of mixed-emotion.
It wasn't the Bulldogs' 30-19 loss at Glendale Mountain Ridge Friday that created the sadness, but the fact that for most of the 13 seniors, it was their final football game.
But even as they walked off the field knowing that the records of 3-8 overall and 2-3 in the Northwest Region fell short of their expectations, they were comforted by the fact that their final football game was a good one, despite the loss.
"I'm really proud of the team for sticking it out and playing hard till the end," said senior running back Tyler Davis, his eyes damp and red.
Added senior middle linebacker Mike McDermott: "We played hard.
You can't ask for any more than that."
And coach Ray Smith, who spent many sleepless nights hoping for some miracle to halt the midseason downward spiral, couldn't have been prouder.
"It's really hard to walk off when we were turning the corner," Smith said.
"They played like Bulldogs the last two games.
They played like the teams I've been privileged to watch the last six or seven years.
They played hard.
"We fought (Mountain Ridge) tooth and nail and we made plays.
We did the things we had to do.
They're a good football team.
We knew that.
We came down here and even at the end our kids were trying to score.
That's all you can ask.
That's all we've been asking all year.
"We've been playing for nothing but pride and character and they did that the last two games.
I'm not disappointed.
I'm really proud of the intensity of the kids and how hard they played."
The Bulldogs, facing one of the top defenses in Class 5A, stunned the Mountain Lions ( 8-3, 4-1) with an opening series touchdown.
They rolled up 80 yards on seven plays, which was capped by a 30-yard touchdown pass from senior Chris Casson to junior Marc Johnston at the 8:16 mark.
Senior Jarrod Chambers booted the extra point for a 7-0 edge.
Casson, who threw for 235 yards, opened with a 27-yard pass to sophomore Matt Volk, who was recently pulled up from the junior varsity.
"It was great," Smith said.
"It's pretty neat when you come out and you have a game plan and things actually work.
You come out a lot of games after you work all week and you have these visions and you stay up and you watch film and you think, 'man, we can do these things,' then you come out and you don't execute them.
It's disheartening and the kids know that too.
"They know what we've been working on all week and they know what the game plan is, and when we came out and we executed so well the first series it was just, well, it just made me proud.
And the kids did it so well.
And we looked good doing it.
There were no flukes there and this is the best defensive team we've played."
On Mountain Ridge's first possession of the game, the Bulldogs' defense forced a field goal attempt by Adam Klettlinger.
He missed a 34-yard try and later missed three others.
With 1:15 remaining in the first quarter, McDermott's prep career abruptly ended when he dropped to the ground, grabbing his knee.
He was carried off the field, returning after half-time on crutches.
It appeared to coaches and trainers to be a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
"It's not how I wanted to go out," the two-year starter said.
The injury hurt not only McDermott, but the entire team.
His experience and ability at middle linebacker was greatly missed.
"In my heart, in the ifs of the world, if we don't lose McDermott early in the game, I don't think they would have put on those points," Smith said.
"We came here thinking if we'd get 16 we could win.
I think that would have been true if we didn't lose McDermott.
"Mike McDermott is that important to our defense.
He calls all of our defenses and our adjustments and that's why I think they had success.
But defensively, we were playing pretty good until that point."
The Mountain Lions, who had just started their final drive of the first quarter when the injury occurred, used a 38-yard run by Cole Stoneman and a 9-yard blast by Diondre Travis to set up their first touchdown.
Travis zipped three yards into the end zone.
Klettlinger's extra point knotted the score with 11 seconds in the quarter.
The second quarter was the only one in which the Bulldogs failed to score.
Travis, who rolled 192 yards on 22 carries, scored the second of his four touchdowns with 7:38 left in the first half.
A 2-yard blast and Klettlinger's extra point pushed the Mountain Lions ahead, 14-7.
Klettlinger connected on a 21-yard field goal with 1:44 remaining to give Mountain Ridge a 17-7 halftime advantage.
The Bulldogs returned after halftime and turned about the Mountain Lions at the KHS 40-yard-line.
On their next possession, the Bulldogs used the legs of Davis and Travis Lewis and a couple passes by Casson en route to the end zone.
A holding penalty against Mountain Ridge gave KHS a boost to the MR 22-yard line.
Lewis and Davis charged for six yards and 16-yard pass from Casson to Josh Walters catapulted the Bulldogs to the 1-yard-line.
Lewis charged into the end zone.
Chambers' kick was blocked as KHS closed the gap, 17-13 with 2:25 left in the third quarter.
The Mountain Lions began their next scoring drive, which continued into the final quarter and ended on a 10-run TD run by Travis, a successful kick pushed the margin, 24-13.
The Bulldogs refused turn back.
They were unsuccessful on their next possession, but stopped the Mountain Lions from scoring by blocking a field goal attempt.
On their next possession, they ate over three minutes off the clock by taking the ball 67 yards into the end zone.
Casson connected with Davis on a 13-yard TD pass.
The pass attempt failed as the score stood, 24-19, at the 3:29 mark.
Travis scored his fourth touchdown — a six-yard blast of the middle — for the final, 30-19.
"The seniors hung with us in a bad season where it was very tough," Smith said.
"It's easy to stick when things are going well.
I told them in 15 years from now, these kids will be successful because they know what it means to pay a price.
" I'm proud of them because they didn't jump the ship."