ARLINGTON - It's understandable that Steve Wood was a little shaken and perhaps even bewildered Saturday afternoon.
After all, when you're 59-4 in four years as a head football coach, being on the losing end of a score is something most unfamiliar.
However, Wood and his team were given a harsh reminder of the feeling when they were bested 20-19 by College Station in the Class 5A Division II state championship at AT&T Stadium.
"It hurts. If you've ever been between the white lines, you know it hurts," Wood said. "We've been awful fortunate. My biggest hope is we've been humble when we've won and I hope we can treat this the same way."
Though they haven't much practice at the latter, the Bearcats were indeed humble, led by their coach, who now has two state championships (2014, 2016) and a runner-up finish since taking the helm in 2014.
"They've done everything we asked," he said of his team. "15-1 is nothing to be sorry about."
It's when the "1" happened that hurts most for the Bearcats. Saturday's defeat ended a 31-game winning streak. It also kept them from tying Southlake Carroll, Celina, Katy and Richland Springs for the most state championships in Texas history (8).
The Bearcats are now 130-9 with six state championships since 2009.
Saturday they teased those watching on several occasions, making them believe something would happen to give them another title. Right down to a fumble that, for a second, looked like it might be recovered for a miracle finish before everyone realized the College Station player was ruled down with only a few seconds remaining in the season.
Aledo sophomore running back Jase McClellan broke free for a 76-yard touchdown run just 20 seconds into the second half. It followed up momentum built when the defense held College Station settled for a field goal as the first half ended after the Cougars reached the 1-yard line.
But a missed extra point left the game tied at 13. Then, McClellan scored on a 2-yard run, but again the PAT was off the mark, leaving an opportunity for the Cougars to be the ones celebrating at game's end.
"I said on the headset they left the door open," said College Station coach Steve Huff, who noted that when the Cougars began their program in 2012 he and his coaches visited Aledo as a program after which to model.
Two sure-fire interceptions were dropped, one an almost certain pick-six. The winning College Station touchdown was set up by a 78-yard kickoff return.
But even after the Cougars appeared to seal the win with a 27-yard sack on fourth down, the Bearcats had one last gasp. They strategically used their timeouts and forced College Station to punt. A first punt was downed at the Aledo 3, but a penalty resulted in a re-kick that gave Aledo the ball at its own 27 with 19 seconds to play.
Surely there was a little more magic, one incredible play that folks would speak of for generations of how the Bearcats won their most exciting state title. Fingers were crossed, eyes closed by those who couldn't watch.
When they opened their eyes and uncrossed their fingers, the Bearcats had driven to the College Station 34, but time ran out on this season.
While predicting a state finals berth for any team is often a stretch, when your team has been there as much as Aledo, early optimism for 2018 is understood. After all, they are 46-3 in the playoffs over the past nine seasons.
Plenty of talent returns, such as McClellan (1,599 yards, 28 TD), sophomore quarterback Jake Bishop (2,364 passing yards, 28 TD, 7 int.; 751 yards, 6 TD rushing), sophomore receiver Money Parks (28 catches, 405 yards, 7 TD), junior running back Tre Owens (1,164 yards, 16 TD), junior defensive lineman Colt Ellison (92 tackles, 12.5 sacks), and junior defensive back Jake Ford (4 interceptions).
Senior offensive lineman Truett Knox had some advice for the returning Bearcats. He recalled the last time he felt this way as a sophomore in 2015 and what happened the next season. Aledo went 16-0 and won state.
"You've got to do everything you can to prevent this feeling again," he said.
Senior linebacker Aaron Hale said despite the loss, his career at Aledo has given him memories for a lifetime.
"It hurts to end it like this," he said. "But I wouldn't give it up for anything."
Following the Bearcats-Cougars game, former Aledo running back Johnathan Gray was announced as one of nine new inductees into the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame.
Gray led the Bearcats to three consecutive state championships from 2009-11. In 2010 he rushed for 325 yards and eight touchdowns in a 69-34 win over LaMarque in the state championship game. In 2009 he rushed for 252 yards and four touchdowns in a 35-21 victory against Brenham in the title game.
Gray finished his high school career with a national record 205 touchdowns and 10,881 yards. He went on to play for the University of Texas after graduating from Aledo in 2012.