The Homestead Spartans stood near the 20-yard line, staring silently across the field as Carmel jubilantly held the regional championship trophy aloft. Spartan players embraced each other and more than a few had tears in their eyes.
The No. 2 Spartans saw their undefeated season end Friday night at home against the fifth-ranked Greyhounds, who pulled away in the second half to win 31-7 and capture the Class 6A regional title. Homestead remains without a regional championship since 1998.
After the trophy presentation, the Spartans (11-1) gathered around coach Chad Zolman on the field and Zolman told them how proud he was.
"You raised the bar for Homestead football," Zolman told his players. "I couldn't be prouder. ... Some of you will be playing football at the next level. Carry that lesson forward to wherever you play. Change their culture, because you changed ours."
Homestead controlled the game for much of the first half. The Spartans' opening three drives all punched deep into Carmel territory and the first of those ended with quarterback Luke Goode stepping up in the pocket and finding Jake Archbold with a perfect touch pass in the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown that knotted the score at 7 midway through the first quarter.
On Homestead's next two possessions, the Spartans drove inside the Carmel 25-yard line, but both times the Greyhounds (9-3) knocked away fourth-down passes intended for receiver Jared Kistler and the Spartans were turned away without scoring.
Just 28 seconds before halftime, Carmel's Christian Williams pulled down a 6-yard touchdown on a fade route and the Greyhounds went into the locker room up 14-7.
"Significantly in the first half, we drove the field twice and came away with no points," Zolman said. "That hurt us and the (Williams) score at the end of the first half, that hurt us. We came out and uncharacteristically did some things on offense, dropped some balls, made some mistakes."
Carmel put the game away in the third quarter with a pair of touchdowns as Homestead lost the battle in the trenches and struggled to stop bruising running backs Zach White and Dylan Downing, who both rushed for more than 100 yards in the game.
The final nail came on the first play of the fourth quarter, when Goode was sacked and stripped and the Greyhounds pounced on the ball.
The loss ended a season in which the Spartans captured their first SAC title and won 11 games for the first time since 2006.
"The senior class was different this year," said Archbold, who is a member of that class. "The chemistry was off the charts and I couldn't be prouder of my team.
"It's a good feeling to be able to leave that legacy for your future teammates and the school. That's a good feeling to be able to leave that as we exit."