HERSHEY - The yells rose behind them, washing over the West York football team as it gathered together in one last, solemn huddle. Some Bulldogs players stared into space. Others crouched on the ground, bleary eyes hidden behind their facemasks.
Not far away, Bishop McDevitt hoisted a championship trophy into the black night - the prize West York had so coveted.
Instead, the Bulldogs listened to consoling words from their coach, Ron Miller, following a 21-10 loss to the perennial powerhouse Crusaders in the District 3 Class AAA championship game Friday.
Miller told his seniors - many of whom he had coached at his first West York youth camp seven years ago - that they had given him "the best ride of his football career."
"I'm losing 24 of the finest kids I've ever been around," Miller said later.
Their careers ended with one more determined stand here at Hersheypark Stadium. In a showdown of unbeatens, the second-seeded Bulldogs hung around with top-seeded McDevitt -
West York quarterback Brandon Kinneman runs the ball during the District 3 Class AAA championship game against Bishop McDevitt at Hersheypark Stadium Friday, November 30, 2012. West York lost 21-10. DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS - KATE PENN (KATE PENN)
a product both of West York's gutsy play and the Crusaders' own uncharacteristic blunders.
The Bulldogs even trailed by a single score late in the third quarter.
But even on a night when it didn't produce its best football, Bishop McDevitt was too fast, too talented, too physical.
"I thought we had them on the ropes," West York quarterback Brandon Kinneman said. "We just couldn't make the big play, couldn't punch it in."
While the Crusaders (14-0) - ranked No. 18 in the country by USA Today - celebrated their third straight district title, Kinneman and his fellow seniors saw their decorated careers come to a close. They had formed the bulwark of this Bulldogs team, one which even before the season had made a return to Hershey its singular focus.
But unlike West York's last trip to this stage in 2008 - when it produced a 15-7 upset of Manheim Central - the Bulldogs (13-1) couldn't muster another stunner.
Not that they didn't have their chances.
West York kept matters interesting, despite being dominated by the Crusaders in just about every statistical category except the turnovers. The Crusaders outgained West York on the night, 417-190.
In the end, the Bulldogs' power-based run game never kicked into gear. And it was McDevitt's defense - not that high-flying offense - that played a starring role.
"They're a tough football team," Kinneman said. "They're not ranked first in the state and 18th in the country for no reason."
That much was clear
Bishop McDevitt's Rashad Lawson is swallowed by West York's Justin Warfel, left, and Connor Daugherty during the District 3 Class AAA championship game against Bishop McDevitt at Hersheypark Stadium Friday, November 30, 2012. West York lost 21-10. DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS - KATE PENN (KATE PENN)
early. The Crusaders zipped through West York's defense in the first half, fueled by the livewire right arm of quarterback Alec Werner. The senior found Kobay White for a 28-yard touchdown on McDevitt's first drive of the game.
Then, in the second quarter, disaster struck on a West York punt deep in its own end. A strong rush disrupted punter Zack Smith, who tried to run with the ball. He was eventually hauled down at the West York 10-yard line.
Two plays later, Werner found top-target Brian Lemelle (10 catches, 97 yards) for a six-yard touchdown pass to make it 14-0.
The early damage could have been worse for West York, if not for a pair of first-half McDevitt turnovers - including an interception in the end zone. The Crusaders also missed a 37-yard field goal right before halftime.
McDevitt finished with four turnovers and 10 penalties on the night. Werner fired a pair of red-zone interceptions, the only blotches on an otherwise pristine statline (21-of-31, 275 yards, two touchdowns).
Instead, West York went into halftime with hope, after a Brock Snellbaker touchdown run cut the gap to 14-7.
"We were very lucky," Miller said. "Didn't think we played well in the first half. We had some breakdowns at times. But there we were."
The upset hopes were stoked even more when West York tacked on a field goal on its opening drive of the second half.
Belief began to filter through West York fans who made up a huge chunk of the announced 4,031 in attendance.
"I thought we were going to win the football game," Kinneman said.
"If we would have scored (a touchdown) there, that would have been huge," added Smith, the team's leading receiver.
Then, with the score still 14-10 later in the third quarter, the Bulldogs made what proved to be a costly decision.
Facing a fourth-and-3 from their own 35, West York took a chance. After originally trotting out the punt team, Miller sent his offense back on the field.
"Brandon came over and he was frustrated," Miller said of his quarterback. "He was like, 'Coach, I'm telling you we can get this.'
"I said 'You know what, the heck with it.' I trust my kids."
Kinneman was stuffed on the next play. A few minutes later McDevitt running back Andre Robinson plowed in from seven yards out to make it 21-10.
The Crusaders defense did the rest from there, going blow-for-blow with an offensive line that had been West York's biggest strength all season.
"We challenged our line, both offensively and defensive," McDevitt coach Jeff Weachter said.
After the game, West York's seniors savored their final moments on a field together. They walked the length of the visitors' stands, shaking hands with the fans who lined up to congratulate them on their season. The school's fight song blared one final time.
"We went 13-0. Most wins in West York history," Smith said. "But we're 13-1 now."
First Quarter BM -- Kobay White 28 pass from Alec Werner (Connor Maloney kick), 9:02. Second Quarter BM -- Brian Lemelle 6 pass from Werner (Maloney kick), 5:29. WY -- Brock Snellbaker 2 run (Chris Markel kick), 1:12. Third Quarter WY -- Markel 25 field goal, 9:36. BM -- Andre Robinson 7 run (Maloney kick), 0:04.
INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS Rushing -- West York, Brock Snellbaker 17-89, Brandon Kinneman 13-31, James Johnson 5-17, Steven Wilson 3-1, Zack Smith 2-1; Bishop McDevitt, Rashad Lawson 13-91, Andre Robinson 16-59, Alec Werner 1-(-8). Passing -- West York, Kinneman 5-16-0-51; Bishop McDevitt, Werner 21-31-2-275. Receiving -- West York, Smith 4-41, Snellbaker 1-8, Wilson 1-2; Bishop McDevitt, Brian Lemelle 10-97, Kobay White 4-71, Robinson 2-45, Lawson 2-35, Tyrone Gibson 2-17, Nate Showalter 1-10.