Another year, another season out in the semifinals for North Little Rock.
Not many teams would complain about a making it to the 7A state semis two years in a row.
North Little Rock is one of those teams.
After the disappointment of losing on their home field in 2012, the Charging Wildcats were determined to make things right in 2013. And everyone knew they had the horses to do it.
A pair of running backs in Juan Day and Fabian Lewis plus the explosiveness of K.J. Hill at receiver to go along with a talented line and a gritty defense. Add in pieces like Xavier Crosby and Deion Tidwell and the Charging Wildcats were loaded—and were expected by most every outsider with a voice, a keyboard or a general opinion to win the whole thing this year.
The program set milestones both on and off the field including a Nike endorsement deal, another athlete to be showcased at Nike’s The Opening.
Players were getting national attention, as was the team.
But when the Cabot Panthers crossed the goal line for a two-point conversion in the second overtime to beat North Little Rock for the second time this season, none of it mattered.
None of the hype meant a thing. How fast a kid ran, or how high he jumped mattered. The only thing that mattered between 9:30 and 10 p.m. in Cabot was that it was over.
The season, the endeavor, the championship drive was over.
I can imagine that the feeling was all too familiar from 12 months before. The shock, the sadness, the knee-buckling gut punch of that loss for the players, the coaches and the fans.
No one wanted to talk about how great the season was, or how the kids fought, but just came up short.
The reality is that this team might be a little weaker without Day and Tidwell, but Lewis and Hill return and should be dynamic playmakers on an offense that returns eight starters. The defense will have to fill some spots with only five coming back.
The Charging Wildcats will have a newness about them when they take the field next season. They will have new players in key spots. They’ll have a new enthusiasm, and new digs.
Truth is whether Friday was a loss or a win, the work would not end. The loss hurts, but it should only make for another group of hungrier Charging Wildcats.