Nothing lasts forever.
It's a harsh lesson, and one that the North Putnam Cougars's football team learned the hard way Saturday night when they lost to Southridge at home in an IHSAA Class 2A semistate game.
The Raiders defeated the Cougars, 22-7 in North Putnam's first semistate appearance in 16 years.
"I think this team has really showed its character this year," North Putnam Coach Dave Pasch said after the game. "I think they're showing their character even more in defeat than they did in victory."
The Cougars were undefeated heading into Saturday's game but left with their first loss of the year, ending their season at 13-1.
North Putnam surrendered an early score to the Raiders, as Southridge scored on a 36-yard pass from quarterback Brad Roesner to Ross Kunkler with 7:47 to go in the opening period.
Kunkler ran the ball into the endzone to complete the two-point conversion, and the Raiders were out in front, 8-0.
The Cougars struggled to get their offense going, as they were forced into fourth-down situations on three consecutive possessions and had to punt all three times.
NPHS had a brief glimmer of hope late in the second, as Brayden Dahlstrom launched a deep pass toward the endzone that would have brought North Putnam within two.
But that hope was dashed away when Southridge's Andrew Holzbog went airborne and intercepted the ball at the Raiders' 1-yard line.
North Putnam never had a better opportunity to score for the duration of the contest.
Dahlstrom threw a pair of interceptions on the Cougars' first two possessions, and the Raiders took advantage.
A 28-yard touchdown run from Southridge senior Phillip Solman put the Raiders ahead 15-0.
North Putnam finally managed a score midway through the fourth quarter, as Dahlstrom hooked up with Jake Mullis in the endzone for a 52-yard touchdown pass. The extra kick from Dahlstrom was good, and the Cougars were on the board, 15-7.
But the Raiders put the nail in the coffin with just under three minutes to play, as Roesner threw his second touchdown pass of the night, this time connecting with Shane Guinn for an 8-yard pass.
With the victory, Southridge (12-2) will now face Fort Wayne Harding High School at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis Friday for the Class 2A state championship.
As time ran out on the clock, there was plenty of emotion surrounding the Cougars' home field.
There were the tears in the eyes of both the Cougars' players and fans, and even Coach Pasch was emotional after the game.
However, Pasch's emotion seemed to come more from pride in his players than the agony of defeat.
"These are tremendous young men," Pasch said. "I'm incredibly proud of the way they've handled themselves this year in victory and now in defeat. They're tremendous boys and they're going to become tremendous fathers and husbands some day."
And as sad as the North Putnam faithful was to see its team's incredible run come to a close, they, too, seemed full of pride for the team that had captivated their entire community all season long.
The fans were patting their Cougars on the back and embracing them with fondness, all the while telling them, "Thanks for a great season," and "Congratulations."
"This community has been great for us all year," Pasch said. "It's meant a lot to them, and that's something that's meant a lot to us. We're proud to have played for these people this year and brought them so much success."
Despite all of his pride in his players and his thanks to the North Putnam community, though, Pasch had to admit that the loss was painful for both him and his team.
"I'm so glad they got to experience this," Pasch said. "If there's ever a group of young guys that deserved the success we've had this year, it's this team."
With the loss, the Cougars said goodbye to eight seniors.
Shane Diebold, Dahlstrom, Tyler Trent, Joe Lawhorn, Jake Stigall, Emmett Boruff, Andrew Smith and Mullis all played their final games in a North Putnam football uniform.
"There's no words for what those guys meant to us," Pasch said. "We missed them a lot. They worked for four years to get here, and they should all be extremely proud of themselves.
North Putnam finished the season at 13-1.
At North Putnam
Class 2A Semistate
Southridge 8 0 7 7 -- 22
North Putnam 0 0 0 7 -- 7
Southridge -- Kunkler 36 pass from Roesner (Kunkler run) 7:47
Southridge -- Solman 28 run (Wertman kick) 8:22
North Putnam -- Mullis 52 pass from Dahlstrom (Dahlstrom kick) 6:18
Southridge -- Guinn 8 pass from Roesner (Wertman kick) 2:48
First Downs -- Southridge 18, North Putnam 10
Rushing Yards -- Southridge 290, North Putnam 78
Passing Yards -- Southridge 87, North Putnam 69
Total Yards -- Southridge 377, North Putnam 147
Penalties/Yards -- Southridge 4-45, North Putnam 2-20
Fumbles/Lost -- Southridge 2-0, North Putnam 2-1
Southridge -- Guinn 10-92, Solman 18-82, Kunkler 15-76, Barnett 5-40
North Putnam -- Vondersaar 5-23, Dahlstrom 9-34, Rooker 9-21
Southridge -- Roesner 7-15-87
North Putnam -- Dahlstrom 8-20-69
North Putnam finished the season at 13-1