ELKHART — For the first time all season, New Prairie's football team wasn't dancing and singing along to Wes Walker & Dyl's hit song, "Jordan Belfort," in the locker room after a game.
The Cougars blasted this song after each of their first eight wins this season. But following a 31-28 loss to Elkhart Central that came down to a Blazers field goal with five seconds remaining, it didn't feel right to play their celebratory ballad.
Those in attendance at Rice Field last Friday couldn't contain their emotions. On one side, pure exuberation for a school overcoming the hump of winning a close game. On the other, a plethora of gaping mouths and heads in hands for a school that had an undefeated regular season and Class 4A No. 1 ranking in the state ripped away from it. Neither New Prairie nor Elkhart Central believed what just happened.
The Cougars hardly spoke to one another as they packed up their gear to head back home. Packed onto two yellow and black school buses, the players were left with their thoughts in dead silence for the entirety of their hour-long drive back to New Carlisle. They mulled over what they could've done better, what went wrong and what this loss meant. And while that typically spells for a melancholy group, it was hardly the case.
"No one was in a good mood because we knew we could've done better," said quarterback Chase Ketterer. "But coming into this week, I think it helped us. We came in with a fire in us knowing we didn't want to feel that again."
The bellowing fire building up in the core of the New Prairie football players isn't surprising. Associate head coach Bill Gumm predicted such would happen just minutes after the clock hit zero in Elkhart.
"Now they know what it's like to lose a game," Gumm said Friday night. "Obviously you never want to lose. But I'll tell you this: This is going to light a fire underneath them. They know how it feels to lose, and I can guarantee you they'll do everything they can to make sure they don't feel like this again."
It's easy to say losing such an emotional game would fire a team up, but actually coming into practice the following Monday with more energy than before is difficult to accomplish. It doesn't matter to the Cougars that they lost a game they very well should have won; that they dropped three spots in the state rankings to No. 4 in Class 4A; or that the loss meant they shared the Northern Indiana Conference title with Penn. None of that mattered to them.
They learned what it feels like to lose and will do whatever possible to stop that from happening in postseason play. New Prairie knows last Friday's loss to the Blue Blazers won't define their season, as the road to Lucas Oil Stadium begins this Friday night against South Bend Riley in the first round of the sectional.
"As a team, we're always trying to prove ourselves and striving to get better every week," Ketterer said. "Everyone on this team knows what we're capable of, and last week's game doesn't change that. This team is a state title contender."
Class 4A Sectional 18
AT JACKSON FIELD, SOUTH BEND
New Prairie (8-1) vs. South Bend Riley (5-4), 6:30 p.m.