The kids from Edmondson link arms, a group of young men standing in a circle, shouting the word TEAM, the dark Baltimore night kept at bay by the fluorescent glow of stadium lights.
The dream of an undefeated season was gone after the City College game. Even a winning season no longer looked like a guarantee. The bus ride back to Edmondson was a silent one that night.
FOR THE RECORD - An article on Page 1A Thursday about the Edmondson-Westside High School football team should have referred to the state championship game against McDonough High School from Southern Maryland, not the McDonogh School.
The Sun regrets the errors.
In the days ahead, some players wondered how much damage they had done themselves. Would the 2006 season mirror the disappointment of 2005? Would college recruiters write off Edmondson players and abort the hopes many of them harbored?
When the players returned to school Monday, the sting of losing only got worse. Other students mocked them for their cockiness.
Certainly, on that day, no one would have predicted the extraordinary season that lay ahead.
Later, everyone would point to two crucial events after the City College loss that changed everything.
The first occurred when Brian Jenkins, Edmondson's running backs coach, sat down with Tariq in front of a television days after the City game. They watched Tariq's runs, analyzing his cuts, his spins, his dancing in traffic and, especially the way he over-thought his next move each time he broke free. You're not trusting yourself, Jenkins told him. Don't think. Just run hard. Run with confidence. You are a better player than this.
The lesson hit home. Tariq was a different runner the rest of the season. A dominant runner whose performances defined games.
Another change also had a huge impact on the team's fortunes. After several days of deliberation, coach Jones and offensive coordinator Green decided to give the majority of playing time at quarterback to sophomore Carroll Washington, even though it meant benching a senior, James "Buddy" Thorne.
It was a risky move. If Buddy reacted to the demotion by moping and complaining, Jones knew, it could divide the team. But Buddy did not react that way. Instead, he made it his mission to work with Carroll each day at practice, helping to improve the younger player's technique on handoffs, to learn the plays and to read coverages. He acted, in many ways, like a coach. Even Carroll was surprised.
"Most kids in situations like that would have moped around and become a cancer to the team," Jones said. "Not Buddy."
The loss to City College proved humbling, but also motivating. In Edmondson's next five games, the Red Storm outscored their opponents 151-2. That included a 12-0 win over Dunbar on Oct. 6 in the mud and the rain, Edmondson's first win over its archrival in three years.
The Red Storm roared into the playoffs. Under their jerseys, they wore red and white T-shirts emblazoned with "We Will Win State." They then dismantled three playoff opponents to earn a berth in the Class 2A state championship game, held at M&T Bank Stadium on Dec. 9. Their old nemesis, City College, which went undefeated during the regular season, didn't survive the second round of the playoffs.
Before the championship game against McDonogh, Edmondson's team captains, Sterling Jones, Tariq Jones, Kyle Jackson and Dionta Cox, walked to midfield, arms linked, for the coin flip. Sterling, nerves jangling, was running on only a few hours of restless sleep.
In the opening half, Edmondson played undisciplined football, scarily reminiscent of the City College game. The Red Storm went into the locker room clinging to an 8-3 lead. In the stands, jittery Red Storm fans feared the worst.
Tariq refused to let it happen.
On the opening play of the third quarter, he burst through a gaping hole for 49 yards. On the next play, he scored a 16-yard touchdown. From then on, he put on a performance worthy of all those grainy Internet video clips he'd studied for inspiration, rushing for 308 yards on 34 carries. It was one of the most dominating individual performances in the history of Maryland's state championship games. When Tariq lost his helmet at the end of a long run, he bounced to his feet and strutted back to the huddle wagging his tongue in the direction of the Red Storm fans.
Edmondson's defense made sure there would be no McDonogh comeback. Sterling recovered a fumble, then, on offense, ran for a fourth-quarter touchdown. Kyle led the team in tackles. The Red Storm sacked McDonogh's quarterback nine times. Dionta Cox, who finished the year with five interceptions, gave up just one short completion.
Late in the game, with victory assured, Jones inserted Buddy at quarterback to let him throw a few passes as a reward for the graciousness he had shown during the season. On the last throw of his high school career, Buddy launched a 50-yard spiral to teammate Ralph Todd, who caught it for a touchdown.
The final score: Edmondson 37, McDonogh 9.
The Red Storm were state champions for the first time in school history.