Their defenses had been nearly impenetrable. Everything they worked for leading up to that late October Friday night had come down to one game:
Littlestown versus Bermudian Springs.
"That game could have been decided by any one play," Littlestown coach Mike Lippy said. "There was so much on the line."
A 29-game win streak for Bermudian.
A YAIAA Division III championship.
The top seed in the District 3 Class AA playoffs.
One bad snap or a defensive gaffe could have altered the 12-10 win for Lippy's Thunderbolts. Looking back on it, the offensive-minded coach marveled at the job of his defense and a center whose shotgun snaps were always on target for quarterback Trevor Hildebrand.
A few months earlier, Lippy admitted, he would never have guessed the magnitude of Kevin Billand's contribution to a memorable game and season for Littlestown. The Bolts did not lose a game until the district championship against Berks Catholic, but no night came close to derailing that run like the showdown in York Springs.
Both defenses were the stingiest in the YAIAA.
"We held them to 54 yards rushing," Lippy said. "I don't know if anyone would have bet money on that."
Billand credited the performance to the preparation that week.
"I think I practiced harder than I ever did my whole life for that game," he said.
The 6-foot-2, 250-pound center watched film each night that week. As they were all season, Billand's shotgun snaps to Hildebrand were perfect. Defensively, the line was ready for each pulling guard, Billand said, and it attacked accordingly.
Lippy credited defensive coordinator Corey Bittle. Three years earlier, a 37-0 playoff loss to the rival Eagles ended Bittle's first season leading the defense.
Steadily, the unit improved from that point.
"I thought his crowning achievement was how he got the kids ready for the Bermudian game," Lippy said.
The effort started up front, with players such as Billand and a group of players that Lippy classified as "interchangeable parts."
Such an assertion could be made for some of Jon DeFoe's players on the other side of the ball. While Billand became a pleasant surprise for Lippy, Aaron Rebert's senior season at Bermudian blossomed into what DeFoe hoped his lineman could achieve.
A nagging back injury hurt Rebert throughout his high school career, as he fought for playing time. The 5-foot-9, 230-pound senior developed into not only a reliable lineman but a versatile one — somewhat of a staple for the Eagles, who marched to an 8-0 start heading into the Littlestown game.
"You always want to have that next-guy in mentality," DeFoe said. "I think Rebert, he took pride in it this year. He role-modeled what it should look like for younger guys."
Rebert spent some weeks as a defensive end in the Eagles' 4-4 defense. Other weeks, he moved inside to a tackle spot. He also played offensive tackle for a Wing-T offense that produced more than 2,000 rushing yards.
Littlestown and Bermudian were as much alike as they were opposites. Lippy admitted to being an offensive-minded coach, whereas DeFoe stands for defense. Many of their players don't get much rest and play on both sides of the ball.
In Littlestown's case, with a no-huddle offense, its coaches relied on a conditioning program they dubbed "The County Fair." It included an obstacle course, tires and sleds, plus rope workouts. The chores were necessary for the linemen to acclimate their heavy frames for an offense with few breaks between plays.
They also helped mold Billand, who was not always built for the trenches.
"He was like a little butterball kid, but he just grew," Lippy said. "He might have grown 3 or 5 inches and became a physical specimen."
The lines with Billand and Rebert finally met last year. Neither side gave much until the final five minutes.
The game and its finish made for something neither side will forget.
"It was the moment of my lifetime," Billand said.
"Football's an inches game," Rebert said, "and they won by an inch."