WESTFIELD — The walk to the locker room after the last football game is the longest, slowest journey of a high school player’s season.
And for seniors, the path is longer and slower than imaginable. It’s a deflating end to a career.
Concord’s Trevor Wilmore, beaten physically, mentally and on the scoreboard Friday night, took his time heading back to the makeshift dressing area in Westfield’s middle school gymnasium. The Shamrocks had punched their ticket to the Class 5A state title game next week by punching the Minutemen right in the face.
Limping, dejected and covered in dirt, Wilmore walked alone after the game. He looked like a man who wasn’t ready to pull his jersey and shoulder pads over his head for the last time.
No one would blame him. He collected his thoughts as best has he could, but the words came tough, too.
“It hasn’t fully set in that this is my last high school game. I’m just at a loss for words, knowing that I’ll probably never play with any of these guys again,” Wilmore said. “These seniors, I love them all. I remembered even back to junior high, the same group of individuals over and over.”
Concord rode a team effort to a fourth straight Northern Lakes Conference title and a second consecutive regional crown, but Wilmore was the unquestioned heart and soul of the team. Playing through a partial PCL tear in his right knee suffered in Week 9, the Minutemen’s senior returned to the lineup after just two weeks off and sparked wins over Central and Mishawaka.
Westfield, though, was on another level — a big, strong and well-drilled defense that took it to Concord. The game was never close and the Minutemen never stood much of a chance.
There were a few jabs, but no counters.
Wilmore’s intercepted pass on the game’s first play hardly turned the contest one way or another, but it was a ringing blow for what was to come.
The Shamrocks hammered away with ground game offensively and hammered Wilmore defensively.
Even Westfield’s mistakes weren’t really mistakes.
When a halfback went the wrong direction on handoff, QB Nick Ferrer turned the busted play into a 5-yard run.
When the Minutemen forced an Elvis Caldwell fumble after a 12-yard run, the ball landed in the hands of Rocks receiver Devin Reece, who added 5 more yards.
And after Jarrell Pointdexter’s valiant chase and strip of the ball and Brandon Thomas’ cover of a fumble after a 30-yard Westfield pass play, Concord was pinned so deep in its territory that the Minutemen literally reset the Rocks for a final, short touchdown drive.
Anything that could have gone against Concord, did.
“You look at last week ... every time we got in scoring opportunities, we were able to score,” Concord coach Tim Dawson said. “You can’t play bad and expect to win semistate. We did not play great, but I think you got to give a lot of credit to Westfield. Your opponent causes a lot of that sometimes.”
The opponent also inflicted some pain, too. If you were in Concord green and white, everything hurt — knees, hips and shoulders.
“Since that first play, I thought the defense would step, but we didn’t show up,” senior Chris Martin said. “We didn’t come ready to play. It’s all a mental game and we made mistakes.”
“Physically, I hurt. But it was just one of those things that I knew that, being one of the leaders of this team, I had to just keep striding through,” Wilmore said. “They’re a great team, they made a lot of plays.”
Concord was a very good team in its 10 victories, but admittedly, it played poorly in its three losses in 2013.
In a year’s span, the Minutemen have dropped semistates and shots at state title game berths in the two most grueling ways possible. Last November, Concord played nose-to-nose with Mishawaka and was eliminated by a game-ending field goal.
On Friday, the Minutemen were beaten 14 minutes into the game and simply hung on for dear life.
It’s never been determined which method of defeat is worse on kids, coaches and fans.
Either way, it burns. Everyone wants one more week together.
“They’re hurting. I love them. I’m proud of them,” Dawson said. “Win the conference four times in a row, another sectional, regional, getting to semistate. It just hurts. That’s what sports are all about. These are life lessons. They’ll bounce back.
“The kids, they’ll embrace each other. That’s part of our job as coaches to make sure they’re not too down on themselves. It’s a game. Keep it in check. Like I said last year, there will be tougher things in life that they’ll go through, that’s for sure.”
Bill Beck is the Elkhart Truth sports editor. Contact him on Twitter @BillBeckTruth or email to email@example.com