The PA announcer tried to keep the students off the field, but it didn't work.
Standing on the track, the Providence Day students had just watched their Chargers football team beat Charlotte Country Day 20-14 at home. After the teams shook hands at midfield, the students ignored the announcer's pleas to stay off the field, surged forward and surrounded the players to celebrate Providence Day's first N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association Division I championship.
"It feels amazing," said junior quarterback Chase Ferguson, who transferred to Providence Day this year from South Mecklenburg. "My first year being back and it's just awesome.."
The Chargers lost in the state championship in 1991, '92 and 2005. They would have hosted the state championship game against Harrells Christian in 1986, but prior to the season, Harrells and other small Division 1 schools agreed they would not play a state final game against a larger school from Division 2. Providence Day was a Division 2 member.
The NCISAA considers the game a forfeit and Providence Day as champions, but the Chargers never won the title on the field before this year.
Providence Day finished the season 10-2, their only losses coming 10-7 to 3A public school Porter Ridge, coached by Providence Day head coach Bruce Hardin's son Blair, and at Country Day 12-3 in the regular season. Ferguson said the Country Day loss motivated the team in the championship rematch.
"We came in with a mindset of redemption because they beat us last time and we weren't going to lose this game," said Ferguson.
Hardin said the losses, especially the one to Porter Ridge, helped the team get better through the season.
"There's a ball game that just turns things around and when Blair brought his team over here and they played them tough, you could just see the confidence level go up," he said.
Providence Day faced an early setback in the championship game when starting junior running back Gunner Guelli left the game in the first half with an injury. Backup junior Braxton Mosack replaced him.
Mosack said he was nervous before the first play, but he settled in, leading the Chargers with 98 yards on 21 carries and a 12-yard touchdown run in the second half.
"Braxton Mosack came in and he just went north and south," said Hardin. "He ran hard. He just wasn't going to be denied."
Charger quarterback Ferguson's passing stats may not have been impressive, but Hardin said his managing of the offense was key to the Providence Day win.
After Charlotte Country Day took a 7-3 lead on a run by quarterback Michael Radford in the first half, Ferguson led the Chargers with an up-tempo pace 69 yards down the field, scoring on a 1-yard quarterback sneak with just 22 seconds left in the half. The Chargers took a 10-7 lead into halftime.
"We just got a rhythm going and we've been practicing good all week," said Mosack. "The offense just clicked."
In the second half, the defense that preserved the lead for the Chargers.
With a 20-7 lead with 7:27 left in the fourth quarter, Providence Day's Haamid Williams intercepted a Country Day pass after the Bucs had driven all the way down to the Providence Day 10-yard line.
Country Day scored on another quarterback sneak in the fourth quarter and got the ball back near midfield down 20-14 with 1:48 left, but the Providence Day defense forced four straight Radford incompletions to seal the win.
"Our guys just bond together and make plays," said Hardin. "You just wait and see who's going to do it and I'm just so proud of the defense."
Kicker J.D. Kent added two field goals in the game for the Chargers.
After the game and trophy presentation, the players gathered around Hardin near midfield for a post-game talk. He said he was proud of the team and told them to continue to build from the win. The players' work ethic is what got them to the championship, said Hardin. It could bring them more in the future.
"These players took ownership of this team," said Hardin. "They worked hard and their coaches challenged them and they got prepared to play football and they had fun doing it. They just played with a lot of emotion and they got more relentless each ball game."