On a wet and wonderful night in Palo Cedro, the 2012 Dunsmuir High School football team found the Northern Section promised land with a 34-15 victory over previously unbeaten Redding Christian.
Happy Tigers took turns putting their hands on the Division VI championship plaque while sharing the historic moment with family, friends, classmates, coaches, and former Dunsmuir players who thanked them for "getting the monkey off our backs."
This was the sixth time a Dunsmuir football team had played in a section championship game, and the first time they got their paws on the grand prize.
The Tigers finished the season with a 12-1 record, their only loss coming on the same field against the same team three weeks earlier in the game that decided the league championship.
"This is what we worked for for four years; it's life-changing," said senior running back Justin DeClusin, who set up the Tigers' final score when he caused a fumble on a quarterback sack, then had a 19 yard run from scrimmage to the 6 yard line with just under 4 minutes left in the third quarter.
Quarterback Brian Taylor ran it in from there on a keeper and sophomore Chase Sordahl ran in the conversion for a 34-7 lead.
The drizzle/light rain that fell during much of the game contributed to numerous fumbles. But unlike in some of those other five section championship games, the ball mostly bounced Dunsmuir's way this night.
With the Tigers holding a 14-7 lead in the second quarter, junior Dayton Pepperdine fielded a bouncing punt, ran across the field, then along the sideline past his teammates and coaches for a 60-plus yard return to the 5 yard line.
DeClusin ran it in from there to give the Tigers a 20-7 halftime lead.
The Tigers took the opening kickoff of the second half and methodically marched to another score, Sordahl's second short TD run of the night.
Dunsmuir did most of its damage on offense running the ball, but Taylor connected with senior Cody Hagedon on a short throw over the middle early in the second half, and Hagedon turned it into a 70 yard play that set up the Tigers' second score of the game, which put them ahead for good at 14-7.
Dunsmuir's defense was ready for Redding Christian's spread offense this time, although the Lions weren't the same without quarterback Hayden Piper, who suffered a season-ending injury a week earlier.
Even when things went wrong, they didn't stay wrong for long. CJ Palmer muffed a punt that Redding Christian recovered at the Dunsmuir 32 yard line early in the fourth quarter, then Palmer intercepted a pass on the next play at the 8 yard line.
Soon after that the many Tiger fans who stood from end zone to end zone behind Dunsmuir's bench started chanting, "Let's go Tigers..."
Page 2 of 2 - Amid the post-game celebration, Tiger players and coaches used words like "family," "brotherhood" and "love" to describe what made this year's team special.
"We're one big family," DeClusin said. "We always have each other's backs."
"No one gives up on anyone," said senior James Adams. "We all stuck together."
"We're all really close and know each other really good," said Taylor.
"I love these guys," said Sordahl. "To go through what we went through last year (when they lost the section championship game 38-34) and now this. I'm ecstatic."
"We put in so much time and effort for it," said senior lineman Jeff Rhoades, who made his presence felt in the Redding Christian backfield. "To have it come true, it's an awesome feeling... We're a brotherhood. I love these guys and trust them with my life; they're my best friends."
"They're a great group of kids," said head coach Ray Kellar, who praised the players for putting in many hours preparing both on the field and watching film. "They're a family; they work together. My hat's off to them; they worked hard for it, and they deserve it."