At the end of every high school football season, only six teams in Pennsylvania can win the final game and hold a trophy over their heads.
For most teams across the state, they understand that they don't have the talent to win a state title and set more realistic goals at the start of the the year. Still, at the beginning of every season, each team dreams of what it would be like to be a state champion.
On Friday night, York Catholic was awoken from its dream of being the PIAA Class 2-A state champion. The Fighting Irish's 48-35 defeat to District 2-champion Dunmore brought their season to a heartbreaking end.
Realistically, at the start of the season, and even as the year carried on, it was hard to see York Catholic as a serious threat to be a state champion. But, as soon as the Fighting Irish won the District 3 2-A crown a week ago, they became one of 16 teams left with a shot at being the best 2-A program in the state and that's all you can ask for at that point.
So, as the tears slowly dry and the feeling of defeat gradually dissipates, it's not hard to realize everything that York Catholic accomplished this season and, on a larger scale, the impact that the soon-to-be graduating class of seniors had on the program over the past four years.
There's little doubt that in the history of Fighting Irish football, the 2016 version will go down as one of the best teams in program history. They entered the year facing a 24-year York-Adams League division title drought and a 34-year District 3 championship drought. Both are no more.
The 10-2 record this year ties the program-best for wins in a season, matching the 1992 team that went 10-1 overall. And then of course there's the state tournament appearance, the first ever.
All of it was a culmination of a few successful seasons in the making and a product of what York Catholic won't have when it takes the field next year.
The seniors on the team who will be departing the program to experience life after high school are leaving a legacy as one of the best classes in the team's history.
Individual stars: Individually, the group was full of stars and difference-makers, starting in the backfield.
Running back Jakkar Kinard twice led the Y-A League in rushing as a junior and senior, eclipsing the 2,000-yard mark this season. He saw some touches as a sophomore, but never became the feature back for the Fighting Irish until his junior year. In two-plus seasons, he finished with 3,594 yards in his career for York Catholic.
Kinard was always part of a dynamic duo with dual-threat quarterback Dan Yokemick; who started at quarterback as a junior, but made his contributions felt in other parts of the game during his four years with the Fighting Irish. As a sophomore, Yokemick caught 22 passes for 323 yards and six touchdowns. As a junior, he threw for more than 1,300 yards and ran for another 500. And then this season, he threw for 1,327 yards and rushed for another 1,098. Together, Kinard and Yokemick accounted for more than 4,400 yards of offense this season and were named Co-Division III Players of the Year by Y-A League coaches.
Then there are receivers Brenden Kennedy and Ryan Sewell. Kennedy took off his junior season to focus on baseball, but returned to have an outstanding senior campaign. He finished the season with 40 catches for 643 yards, with the catches being the second-most in the Y-A League and the yards fifth most. Sewell served as a reliable tight end for Yokemick, hauling in 17 balls for 397 yards, including touchdowns in each of York Catholic's two postseason games.
Lastly, there was an offensive line that was among one of the best in the entire league. Usually, they're an afterthought, the guys that got overlooked every time Kinard or Yokemick would break off a huge run. Yet, to their teammates, their work was always acknowledged. With three seniors in the group — Cliff Konstans, Adam Bittner and Mike McKim — their experience was crucial, with DePew, Kinard and Yokemick always praising them for opening up the holes to allow the offense to have success. It's the things that go unnoticed that usually have the biggest impact.
What can't be lost is the fact that pretty much all of these players would play both ways, too, and some even on special teams.
Leaving a legacy: As a class, this group of seniors raised the bar for success. Every year, they at least made it to the District 3 championship game. Sure, they wouldn't like to have the three straight losses from 2013-15 on their resume, but that failure set them up for the ultimate triumph this year. In four years, they put together a record of 32-17 and four postseason appearances.
They say, every person's goal is to leave something better than how they inherited it. When these seniors arrived as freshmen, District championships weren't on the radar. Now, with a taste of the state tournament, that becomes a goal for future teams.
"I have high hopes for them," Kinard said after Friday's defeat. "I think they're going to be a really good team. They just gotta believe and work hard."
The senior class' achievements can't be quantified solely based off the numbers and accolades previously mentioned.
Instead, it'll be something that, when the players that made the last four years so special for everyone associated with Fighting Irish football are no longer around, then their impact will truly be realized.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker on firstname.lastname@example.org