ONE LAST TIME
SAN ANTONIO - The Gobbler seniors gathered in a final huddle close to the 40-yard line in San Antonio's Farris Stadium. Most of the 13 football players gathered in the circle had bleached their hair blonde, a playoff tradition that had fallen off in the past decade.
"We've been through hell and back," said running back Layne Balfanz to a group of his mostly crying teammates. "Who would have thought we would have come this far?"
The Cuero Gobblers (8-4) fell 26-19 in the Class 3A, Division II regional playoff game to the Sinton Pirates (11-2).
Friday's game was Cuero's first appearance in a regional playoff game in five years, a fact that Balfanz takes pride in.
"We're definitely unpredictable; this shows everybody that we're still here," Balfanz said.
With "Hold the Rope" emblazoned on car windows and team banners, Cuero had a constant reminder that if one player falls off a peg, the whole team strategy can crumble beneath him.
For Balfanz and the rest of the Gobblers, they've been holding the rope for more than 10 years.
"I'm glad to be a part of this team, this is the greatest team I've ever been a part of," Balfanz said with tears in his eyes. "Ever since I was a kid, things have been like this. I'm really proud to bring it back and start this tradition again."
Balfanz said that he has been competing with this particular set of players since elementary school, and he knows the underclassmen and junior players will be back at this level next year.
"They'll be ready," he said.
In a back-and-forth first half, both teams consistently made touchdowns and had less than two turnovers each.
However, both teams made mistakes when attempting points after touchdowns.
Sinton had one missed two-point conversion and two missed kicks, while Cuero's Pearson Reese had two kicks blocked.
A two-point conversion early in the fourth quarter for Sinton made up for some of the lost extra points earlier in the game.
Cuero turned the ball over twice after that point, and scored once in the second half.
"We didn't do a good job of protecting on one of them, we had a fake extra point on and we didn't execute and didn't communicate on that one," said Cuero coach Travis Reeve. "Those things went back and forth. We stopped some of their extra points."
Reeve calls this year's team a special group of kids.
"(They are special because of) how hard they play, how hard they fight, how much adversity they've overcome," Reeve said. "They've accomplished a tremendous amount this year."
Both Reeve and Balfanz credit Sinton for playing a hard-fought game.
"We certainly would have liked to have been able to keep going. Our kids have a lot invested in this, and it's tough when a great season comes to an end," Reeve said. "Our kids don't have any regrets."
"I wish it was us," Balfanz said. "I can hate them as much as I want right now because they took away what we had, but they're the ones that came out on top and I can't do anything about that. But they're a good football team, and I hope they do good next week."
As for the few Gobbler seniors, there will be no next week or a next season.
They made sure their final moments on the turf mattered though.
"One last time, baby," a senior cried, before a collective "1-2-3 Gobblers!"