ST. PETERSBURG — You can measure a victory by the decibel level of an excited coach in a postgame huddle, and Lakewood coach Cory Moore did not disappoint.
You can even measure victory by the brightness of the smiles on the faces of the players gathered in the end zone, and you needed no lights on the Spartans' side.
But sometimes, to get the true essence of a big victory, you measure it by the solitary figure who, for a quick moment, sneaks off to kneel away from a joy that was smothering him, to cry just a little.
"I think this touched everybody,'' explained wide receiver Marcus Jackson, who wasn't the only Spartan to shed a tear after a stunning 32-24 victory.
It was a game that was over at one point, another failed opportunity for the Near-Miss Kids. Then, it wasn't.
The Spartans' dramatic come-from-behind victory — 26 points in the last 420 seconds — over reigning county power Largo on Thursday brought Jackson to his knees. "It touched me real deep,'' he said.
That's what happens when the impossible offers itself up, when something that seemed so far away is suddenly in your lap. Because really, no one saw this coming.
For three quarters, it was about as uneventful game as you could have. Largo broke off a big play or two, Lakewood spun its wheels, and — heck, I'll say it — boredom settled in.
Perhaps that's why, leading 24-6 with seven minutes remaining, Largo seemed to lose interest in winning a game it had completely in its grasp.
It was an epic collapse, by a numbingly conservative coaching staff and a roster apparently riding last year's success backed by a pitifully sparse flock of supporters.
Who were these impostors?
Here's the deal: this year's Largo team isn't good enough to roll out of bed and get a big lead, then roll back over and go back to sleep.
Last year's team? Easily.
Year before that? No problem.
This year? No way.
Wrong year, wrong night.
Mostly, wrong opponent.
Maybe they were confused by the presence of Florida Gator Louis Murphy on the Spartans sideline.
Murphy played on the last great Lakewood team back in 2002. But he was also on the 0-10 team that followed in 2003, a year so tumultuous it has taken this long to get, just maybe, all the way back. Moore deserves a ton of the credit, for he has been soothing, calming, then fiery, inspiring.
Even a little creative.
To prepare for Largo, he gathered his players this week in a hot classroom, in full pads, with their helmets on and their mouthpieces in. Their ear holes were filled by loud music, thumping, distracting noise.
And they took a test. They answered questions about the Packers' tendencies, who the fastest players were, what kind of things their opponent would try to do.
"They did good …about a 93,'' he said.
In the chaos and against the odds, they excelled. Then did the same on the field.
When Moore took over this summer for Otis Dixon, returning to his alma mater, there were questions and there were doubts.
He kept assistant coaches the critics on blogs and the like said he shouldn't.
He is leading a group of respectful and proud kids when they said he couldn't.
He is winning when they said he wouldn't.
"I'm just happy to be here,'' said Moore, and that is probably at the heart of his success.
He is truly happy to be here. When he says it, he means it. His players believe him.
"Coach played on this field, right here,'' said Jenkins, pointing at the turf. "He has that fire.''
It burned brightly Thursday night, and not even an orange bucket of ice cold water could douse the flame.
And it's contagious.
The Lakewood defense, led by linebacker Vauchard Goodridge, was great.
Quarterback Jacquez Jenkins, spectacular.
Wide receiver Bernard Reedy, thrilling.
For seniors like Jackson, it's been a long road, but Thursday's win was the reason they stayed on it, and why they didn't quit while facing a seemingly insurmountable deficit.
Jackson caught the winning touchdown. Sealed the win with an interception return a few seconds later. Then it was over.
It made him so happy, he cried.