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On Nov. 27, Lafayette’s football team suffered a 27-6 loss in the Group 4A semifinal round to Courtland.
Lafayette’s seniors walked off the gridiron for the final time, some with tears streaming down their cheeks as steam rolled off their overheating bodies.
The loss to Courtland stung a tad more than usual for Lafayette’s seniors, as it marked the final game any senior would play for the Rams and dashed any hopes of winning a state title before graduating.
It also marked the end of an unprecedented run in Lafayette’s football history.
Losing is something the seniors at Lafayette are not accustomed to. Over the past four years, the Lafayette football team put together an impressive record of 47-5. No other group of players has put together a better record over a four-year span in Lafayette history.
The group of seniors who graduated in 2015 put together a four-year record of 44-7, which is second-best in Lafayette history. In order to find a similar span of success, one would have to go back to the graduating class of 2002 that had a four-year record of 42-9 and won the school’s only football state championship in 2001.
For current Lafayette football players, the magnitude of success can be hard to recognize when the most important game is always the next one.
“I think it does become easy to forget, especially year to year and even week to week,” Lafayette senior offensive lineman Ian McManus said. “We would see online that we broke this record or that record, but we weren’t worried about it because we were focused on winning our next game.”
The focus on winning at Lafayette was somewhat of a culture shock for senior tight end Trey Neville, who transferred to Lafayette from Jamestown after his sophomore year.
Coming from a Jamestown football program where losing was the norm, Neville said he experienced a completely different football culture at Lafayette, one that involved winning — a lot.
Neville said his teammates at Lafayette were constantly pushing each other to get better on and off the field. That culture, he said, stemmed from the work ethic instilled by the Lafayette coaches and previous senior classes.
Senior quarterback and outside linebacker Cheyton Pine echoed Neville’s sentiments, saying he felt a powerful camaraderie when he entered the program as a freshman.
As the culture of hard work has become more ingrained at Lafayette, Pine said it has become a goal of each senior class to pass that culture on to future Lafayette football players.
“I definitely want the underclassmen coming in and looking up to the seniors to see how the game of football looks,” Pine said. “They want to have the opportunity to come in and be as well off as I was. We have to keep passing on the legacy of winning.”
Having experienced his fair share of losses during his time at Jamestown, Neville said each loss at Lafayette hurt more than any loss while playing for the Eagles. When you become accustomed to winning, he said, the losses become harder to stomach.
That added edge to each loss is what made the past two years so hard for the current group of Lafayette seniors. Despite going undefeated during the past two regular seasons, Lafayette was unable to take home a state championship after losing to Magna Vista in the Group 3A state championship in 2014 and being eliminated by Courtland this year in the regional semifinal.
“Even though we’ve won so many games, people will still say we aren’t a big-game team and can’t finish. That still bothers me to this day that we never got a ring,” McManus said about not winning a state championship during his four years at Lafayette.
State championship or not, all three players took immense pride in the win-loss record they earned over the past four seasons and the culture of winning they helped develop.
And while McManus said he loves the idea of being able to tout his high school football win-loss record, he hopes next year’s group of seniors breaks the record set by the current crop of seniors.
“I want Lafayette to prevail and keep winning like we have,” he said. “I hope we’ve set the standards high enough that the classes after us can eclipse us and get rings for themselves.”