Tanner Pittman stood at center court in sock feet, a crown sitting atop his head.
An incoming storm had sent a football crowd indoors for Friday night's Arlington High School homecoming coronation. Softball player Lainey Tierney was voted queen, while Pittman, an Eagles receiver and defensive back, earned a crown fit for a king.
“It's not as good as a football helmet,” senior Logan Kirk offered.
“Yeah, that's for sure,” Pittman confirmed, laughing. “Write that one down.”
Arlington was in a good mood Friday night, having just bested Washington County foe Fort Calhoun 26-20 in overtime. It was the latest thriller in a series that's delivered memorable games in each of the last three seasons.
This year's Eagle-versus-Pioneers tilt came down to a fourth-down overtime pass from Tyler Strauss. The FCHS quarterback needed to the find the end zone on his 32nd attempt.
“As soon as the ball left his hand I just stood back and watched. There was nothing I could do about it,” Arlington defensive lineman Cooper Hilgenkamp said.
Fans and football players watched as the referee ruled the play incomplete.
“I grabbed Josh (Miller), I grabbed Jesse (Thompson),” Hilgenkamp said of his immediate reaction. “I didn't know where I was on the field.”
The Eagles needed the stop after going ahead by just six points on the opening drive of the extra period. It took Thompson just two totes to cross the goal line, but Arlington's two-point conversion attempt came up empty.
“It's super stressful, but I believe in our defense and I knew we could do it,” Pittman said. “We've done it before and we did it again.”
Hours earlier, during the first quarter, Arlington quarterback Josh Miller put his team ahead 6-0 with a 1-yard sneak.
“And then we just lost it,” he said. “I don't know what it was, but the rest of the first half we just couldn't get anything done.”
Fort Calhoun did, though.
Twice, Strauss connected on touchdown passes to sophomore Zane Schwarz. The second came on a 4th-and-26 jump ball the receiver won for a 12-6 lead. That six-point Pioneers advantage held until the fourth quarter.
“It got kind of scary at halftime,” Hilgenkamp said with a smile. “We got yelled at.”
“Coach came in pretty fired-up at halftime,” Miller added. “And then we just kicked it into gear.”
When asked what was said, Arlington coach Steven Gubbels laughed and said he'd rather not go into detail before relenting a bit.
“Honestly, we just took a hard look at ourselves and said, 'How bad do we want it?'” he said. “And I told them after the game, 'You came out and responded.' I was proud of them for that.”
Arlington defender Frankie Rosenbalm intercepted a late third-quarter pass, presenting his offense the opportunity to take the lead. Miller dropped a fourth-down snap from Hilgenkamp at the end of the same drive, but collected himself and scored the tying touchdown. Thompson's two-point conversion run put the Eagles ahead 14-12 with 8:16 left in fourth quarter.
“I think what we do is we stay in the game,” Hilgenkamp said. “Even when we were down and it wasn't looking good, we were 100 percent 'in' the whole time.”
Thompson's first touchdown run put the Eagles ahead 20-12 with just 4:34 left, but a missed extra point kept the window open for Fort Calhoun. Sure enough, the Pioneers responded with a 2-minute drive featuring a key Michael Shirley catch and Clint Dierks' 4-yard touchdown run. Strauss found his favorite target, Schwarz, for the 20-all tie on the two-point conversion play.
Unfortunately for Fort Calhoun, overtime belonged to the Eagles. Pioneers coach Andrew Christensen saw what was happening from the visitors' sideline.
“They just kind of owned that line of scrimmage on that last series and overtime,” he said. “We just weren't able to get the stops we needed.”
Thompson ended up running for 194 yards behind an AHS offensive line of Jake Bartosh, Jordan Meehan, Hilgenkamp, Kobe Wilkins and Remington Gay.
“(Jesse was) just saying, 'Give me the ball again,'” Miller said of the late game drives. “And we did.”
Defensively, Hilgenkamp said Gay's move to interior of the defensive line did wonders, too.
“We've just played with a chip on our shoulder and we'll continue to do that,” Miller said.
So, while the Eagles celebrated a homecoming win, Fort Calhoun was forced to unpack what had happened to drop them to 3-3 this season.
“At the end of the day, we made too many mistakes to win,” Christensen said. “But these guys are fighters. They love one another, and the coaches and I love them. We still have a great shot to do some good things and make the playoffs. All of our goals are in place, so we're not going to hang our heads.”
After a 0-4 start, Arlington has won two straight.
“You get seasoned,” Gubbels said. “And you find out a lot about yourself.”
Now, the Eagles are 2-4 with a 2-0 record within their district. It's up to them to acquire the Class C1 District 2 crown — one to go with the one sitting on the homecoming king's head.