More than two years of anguish and frustration wound up in the hands of Justin Renfer, and he knew exactly what to do with it.
He wasn't going down, and this time, neither was Holy Redeemer.
So even as this long-sought victory was finally secured by his last-minute interception, Renfer wanted to make sure. The sophomore linebacker pulled down the pick, put his head down and kept going, through Holy Cross defenders and then past them, all the way to a victory-clinching touchdown
"I thought about it, I was going to go down," Renfer said. "But all I saw was the end zone about 80 yards away."
Actually, it was 74 yards. But it must have felt like 74 years since Redeemer last celebrated victory.
Twenty-two games is a long time to go without winning a high school football game.
"It's finally over," Redeemer quarterback Jimmy Strickland said.
Only because the Royals wouldn't let the losing continue.
They played through pain.
They played through more anguish.
But they played their hearts out to the very end, when Renfer stopped a potential game-winning drive and turned it into a game-clinching dash with one second remaining on the clock.
"It feels … words can't even explain it," Renfer said.
The Royals took their 33-21 victory Monday and darted straight for the stands, leaping in to share their joy with parents and fellow students and anyone willing to celebrate in their excitement.
They shouted with such glee, like they'd just won a state championship.
But winning a single game sometimes brings equal euphoria, especially to a program not used to winning.
"We're trying to change the culture," new Holy Redeemer coach Pat Reece said.
They finally changed the final result.
And that was never easy.
The Royals needed three touchdowns from their defense.
They needed Strickland to overcome a bad limp he picked up on a second-half hit.
They needed to show toughness and resiliency when a game they seemed to control suddenly swung the other way when Holy Cross came back to take a 21-20 lead with 6:43 to play.
Mostly, the Royals needed to keep from saying to themselves, "Here we go again."
"I knew we were going to pull through," Strickland said.
Mainly because he pulled himself together despite a throbbing ankle injury, while his receivers kept pulling down clutch catches.
Big-play Jason Hoggeth came up with a leaping 34-yard snare on fourth down to keep the winning touchdown drive alive, then Pat Villani kept pushing tacklers backwards until he went 18 yards with a screen pass.
Two plays later, Renfer lined up at fullback and blasted into the end zone with a one-yard touchdown, blasting away Redeemer's losing past.
"We were ready for the challenge," Renfer said.
They were ready to win.
When Holy Cross marched down the field, reaching the red zone in the final minute, the Redeemer defense that made game-changing plays all night made one more. It was fitting, then, that Renfer and the defense reversed the course of Redeemer's destiny.
"I was in the right spot at the right time," Renfer said.
This time, so were his teammates. At long last, it was time for them to rejoice.
Paul Sokoloski is a Times Leader sports columnist. You may reach him at 970-7109 or email him at [email protected].