AURORA, Colorado - Cody Beauford clutched the second-place Class 3A football championship trophy as he fought back tears and accepted congratulations and hugs from loyal supporters.
It's not the trophy Beauford and the Rifle Bears wanted. A disastrous end to a near-perfect season.
Like all the Rifle seniors, Beauford's final game of his career was etched in disappointment with a footnote instead of an exclamation point. The trophy is the ultimate consolation prize.
The 32-15 loss to Silver Creek was a heartbreaking end to Rifle's season. The 2012 team was another example of a football program that seems to reload year after year.
Over the last two seasons, the Bears have gone 24-2.
It's the seniors whom the underclassmen talk about as they think about 2013.
With Silver Creek's defense clogging the middle to slow Ryan Moeller, junior Kellin Leigh found room to motor on the outside.
The shifty scatback, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season, has been the change-of-pace back all season. On Saturday, he rushed for 116 yards and caught a two-point conversion pass from quarterback Adam Rice.
Next year, he will be the featured back.
He said that the seniors have been mentors.
"We learned a lot from them, we learned together. We will be back next year," he said.
The cruel nature of high school sports is that seniors don't get second chances.
Something that is painfully obvious to Beauford.
"It didn't turn out the way we wanted. I wish that we could go back and start the game over right now," he said.
Sophomore Austin Shepherd's disappointment could be seen in his slumped shoulders and the physicality of the game was evident by the bruised and bloody knuckle on his right hand.
The foundation of quality football at Rifle is something the hard-hitting sophomore linebacker is eager to continue.
"I'm already looking forward to next year," he said. "I'm glad that I have next year, the next two years. I feel like we let [the seniors] down."
Shepherd said the senior class had a profound influence on the underclassmen.
"They were role models to me. They were like Superman and Spiderman to me - they are good people and athletic and they kept us up when we'd get down."
After so much success over two seasons, Shepherd said he and his teammates who will put on the blue and gold for the Bears next year are ready to fill those big shoes.
"It's very important," he said about upholding the tradition of quality football at Rifle. "I can't even tell you how much I feel the pressure already."
As the underclassmen look to the future, the seniors look back at a spectacular one-loss season. A season that ended in disappointment but bonded them through hard work and success.
"I love them," Rice said about his fellow seniors. "They are my brothers."