York, PA - Alex Cooley thought his night was over.
Already, the Eastern York senior had retired to the sidelines, content after his eighth-and-final touchdown last Friday at Hanover. He delivered a game ball to his father, Michael, who was watching near the sidelines.
The outcome of the Golden Knights' 62-37 win over Hanover was long-since secure.
Then, Michael returned to the sideline with a message. He told his son he was 16 yards away from breaking Pennsylvania's single-game rushing record.
"He said 'Get back in there,'" Alex Cooley recalled in a telephone interview this week.
So began the climactic sequence of Cooley's historic night -- one that ended with him setting a new PIAA record by rushing for 500 yards on 26 carries.
It would provide the apex to what has been an already-remarkable two-year run -- the likes of which no YAIAA running back has ever equaled. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around Friday, Cooley had already claimed the league's career rushing record, climbing past former Littlestown standout Jeremiah Collins. Cooley needed 374 yards to catch Collins coming into the game.
Who could have imagined that milestone would become a mere footnote to the night?
But before he could book his place in the state record book last Friday, Cooley had to convince his coach to let him go back in.
Eventually, midway through the fourth quarter, Cooley and Golden Knights' coach Richard Brubaker struck a deal.
"He told me that when I get the yardage I need, either go out of bounds or take a knee," Cooley said.
On the sideline, Eastern stationed an assistant coach near midfield -- right at the yard marker Cooley would need to set the record.
On his first play after going back in, Cooley busted through the line. He ran a few yards past where his assistant coach stood -- "I wanted to make sure," Cooley said -- then he stopped and took a knee.
When he reached the sidelines after the run, the entire team was there to congratulate him.
"Everybody came up to me individually," Cooley said. "That was cool."
Cooley's 2012 numbers look like something out of a video game: He's run for 1,389 yards and 19 touchdowns, while averaging 13 yards per carry. His career rushing total now stands at 4,559 yards.
The 5-foot-7 senior has done all of that thanks to a combination of speed, strength and explosiveness. Brubaker said before the season he has never seen Cooley caught from behind.
Cooley also credited Eastern York grad and former Pittsburgh Steelers fullback Jon Witman -- now a coach with the Golden Knights -- who has mentored Cooley since the Knights' star was 10 or 11.
As he spoke about his record earlier this week, Cooley did so with a low-key nonchalance. He said improving his team's 2-3 record is more important.
"I'm happy that I got that," Cooley said of the record, "but it's nothing unless we keep winning."
"I really do think making this mark will be something that I can look back on one day," Cooley said.
Someday, certainly, the true significance of the night will set in.
Already, it's one nobody with the Eastern York program will soon forget.
Out with the old: Cooley's performance last Friday bested the previous single-game rushing record of 490 yards, set by Harbor Creek's Stephen Blose in 2005.
Walking wounded: West York's 5-0 start has included its share of adversity, mostly in the form of injuries. At one point, each of West York's top three running backs coming into the season has been at less than 100 percent. Junior Josiah Mincer will miss the rest of the season with an ACL injury.
That's just one example, West York coach Ron Miller said.
"We've had more injuries in the first five weeks of the season than I've had in my first 75 games as coach," Miller joked.
Still, Miller said his team is finally getting healthy, heading into the Bulldogs' Division II opener against Susquehannock.
Speaking of 5-0 teams: It'd be hard to find much fault with Bermudian Springs' season to date. The Eagles (5-0, 4-0 YAIAA Div. III) have flat-out dominated opponents, outscoring them by a combined 173-22.
That said, three of the Eagles toughest games remain ahead of them -- starting with a home matchup against red-hot Delone Catholic (3-2, 3-1) on Friday.
John Clayton is a prep sports reporter for the Daily Record/Sunday News. Reach him at 771-2045 or firstname.lastname@example.org.