TAMPA — As he made his way through the postgame handshake line, Gordon Stetson paused briefly.
While a mass of his white and navy-clad teammates hugged and leaped in celebration around him, the Berkeley Prep halfback pushed a gloved hand through his face mask to pinch his eyes as the tears began to roll down his cheeks.
The senior workhorse had yearned for this moment. And when it finally became reality on Friday night, it was almost surreal.
Behind Stetson's two-touchdown performance, the Buccaneers clinched the Class 3A region title, turning Tampa Catholic into nothing more than a speed bump on their way to the state final four with a 42-6 romp.
"This team was doubted all year," Stetson said, his voice cracking and eyes welling up again.
"No one believed in us, but we believed in each other. And we got it done."
Simply put, Berkeley was not going to be denied in its much-anticipated rematch with the Crusaders, who won the regular season meeting 25-10 on Sept. 30.
From the onset, Stetson ran wild, taking a handoff 55 yards to the house nearly seven minutes in.
By halftime, the Bucs had added two more scores on a 3-yard run by Stetson and a 12-yard connection from Davis Koetter to Sandro Maxwell, who caught the pass while sandwiched between two defenders in the end zone, to make it 21-0.
"We felt we had to play perfect football in every phase," Berkeley coach Dominick Ciao said, "and we were close to that tonight."
The Bucs swiftly drained any hope TC (6-4) had for a comeback in the second half as Jakob Hines capped a 10-play opening drive with a 2-yard score.
Hines later scored from 2 yards out and Koetter iced it with a 1-yard sneak in the fourth quarter.
The Crusaders avoided being shut out for the first time since 2014 with a 78-yard TD from Austin Sessums to Darius Corbett as the clock hit zero in the third quarter.
But that's all Berkeley yielded.
As the final horn sounded, several Berkeley players hopped on the bench and flexed toward the capacity visitor's section behind them. Inside the locker room afterward, players banged on the metal lockers with one unified roar that drowned out any other noise: "State, state, state!"
The Bucs are on their way.
"No one even expected us to be in the playoffs," Stetson said. "Now we're in states."