Before Pinewood's final home football game of the season against Trinity Christian, the Panthers' small, three-man senior class of Kyle Murphy, Dominick Twombly and Aidan Lucero was honored during a brief pregame ceremony.
One of the seniors, Lucero, was unavailable to play in the game as the Panthers' co-captain re-injured his shoulder in Pinewood's second game of the season and was lost for the rest of the year.
In the second quarter of Friday afternoon's game, the list of available seniors was cut by one again. Murphy, Pinewood's other co-captain and leader in rushing yards and touchdowns, suffered a concussion after absorbing a big hit on a tackle, and was forced to sit out the rest of the game.
Without Lucero and Murphy, Pinewood struggled to score against a bigger, more experienced Warriors squad, and lost to their Mission Trail Athletic League opponent, 42-18.
"It's unfortunate that (Lucero and Murphy) are hurt on senior day, because they've put their entire heart and soul into the team for the last couple of seasons," Pinewood head coach Matt Irvin said. "It would have been a close one, especially if Kyle hadn't gone down in the first half. It would have been nice to compare apples to apples."
Pinewood and Trinity Christian entered the game tied for second place in the 8-on-8 MTAL, with both teams having suffered a loss earlier in the season to unbeaten Stuart Hall.
But the Warriors had more experience at almost every position than the Panthers, boasting six seniors on the roster.
"We have some veterans inside," Trinity Christian head coach Frank Leonard said. "So our guys were familiar with what they were doing, familiar with this area, and familiar with success."
Along with being older, the Warriors were also much bigger at almost every position. At 6-foot-4, 252 pounds, senior defensive lineman Michael Oblander especially towered over the Panthers' offensive line and caused havoc in the backfield.
"You look at them before the game starts and you say, 'wow they're big,'" Pinewood running back Alex Dagman said. "But, as the game progresses, you forget about their size."
Pinewood was led offensively by Dagman, who rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown, and caught three passes for 20 yards. The junior also showed some impressive leadership on the sidelines, gathering his teammates late in the fourth quarter and imploring them to continue to play for pride.
"I try to step up as a leader when some of the seniors are on the field and I'm not," Dagman said. "I try to get our team to realize, when we're down 30 points, that it's still okay, we got this."
The game started as a back-and-forth affair, as early in the second quarter, Murphy hauled in a 29-yard pass from quarterback Jaeden Bailey to narrow the Panthers' deficit to 16-12.
The Warriors responded quickly with a 42-yard touchdown pass from Triston Thompson to fellow senior Jackson Hill, and converted a two-point attempt to open up a 10-point lead.
After a disastrous Pinewood drive that saw Murphy leave the game with a concussion, it looked like the Panthers might still get one more scoring chance before the half, as Trinity Christian decided to punt on fourth and long from its own 30-yard line.
But, Pinewood was called for a personal foul for running into the kicker, giving Trinity Christian a first down. The Warriors made the most of their second chance, as Thompson ran up the middle for a 15-yard score, and the Panthers faced an 18-point deficit at halftime.
Pinewood opened the third quarter in good shape, driving the ball down to the Warriors' 3-yard line on its first offensive possession. However, that was as far as the Panthers could get as the Trinity Christian defense stuffed two runs up the middle, sacked Bailey for a 7-yard loss, and forced an incompletion on fourth down to take over on downs.
"If we don't stop them on that fourth down it could have been a different game," Leonard said.
Trinity Christian tacked on two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter, before Dagman gave the home crowd something to cheer about in the final minutes. He received a lateral from Bailey, and ran 65 yards down the field for the final score of the game.
Pinewood still has two league road games left on its schedule, one against Anzar and another against rival Priory. Although the Panthers are now eliminated from MTAL championship contention, Irvin is not worried about a drop-off in performance from his young team.
"The whole program is taught pride," Irwin said. "The championship title is out this year, but the Priory crosstown classic is where the pride comes in. Hopefully we'll keep the trophy here again."