The field-goal kick was in the air and as it traveled those 31 yards to the goal posts four seasons of frustration seemed to tug at the laces.
Four luckless seasons for a River Ridge program that has struggled to relive its once-proud past, that has lost by every margin, in every conceivable way. A program that has always fallen just short of its dreams and ambitions.
Friday night, the Royal Knights found a new way to suffer:
By an inch.
That's how far wide right Matt Baker's 31-yard field goal was with 4.3 seconds left as rival Mitchell held onto a dramatic 19-17 victory at James Valentine Stadium, clinching the Class 4A, District 7 runner-up spot and a playoff berth.
For the second straight season, the sub-.500 Mustangs (3-6) will return to the playoffs. For the fifth consecutive season, the Knights (3-6) will not.
"This has turned into a pretty good rivalry," said Mitchell coach Scott Schmitz, who left River Ridge in 1999. "I'm just as happy as I can be with our kids. We did a great job of coming back when we needed to."
From a 17-7 deficit, that is. River Ridge controlled the lead, the ball and the clock with 7:42 left in the fourth but fumbled the snap on third-and-6, and Mitchell's Troy Adams pounced on at the 43.
The Knights' sideline deflated, as the Mustangs Chris Watts and Spencer Brown went to work on that furious comeback. Watts finished the game completing 9-of-15 passes for 175 yards, and Brown caught six passes for 144 yards and ran for 57 yards.
Brown caught two passes from Watts for 27 and 15 yards, and Watts scored on a 1-yard quick snap with 5:05 left. Ryan Villiard's point-after attempt bounced off the right goalpost and the lead stood at 17-13.
The relentless Mustangs took possession again, and Watts hit Brown for a 21-yard completion, then Brown scored on a 20-yard wingback trap to take the lead with 3:25 left. But the Knights' Jahmaal Osbourne blocked the extra-point attempt, leaving the score at 19-17.
A field goal would win it, and with 3:19 left River Ridge quarterback Ryan Mistal gave his team a chance to do just that. He completed 5-of-5 passes for 38 yards and ran six times for 27 yards.
But Baker, one of the county's most reliable kickers, booted it just wide. It looked so close the Knights stormed the field in celebration in the seconds before the official waved the kick off. They stood in stunned silence as the Mustangs began their revelry.
"What do you tell them?" River Ridge coach Mike DeGennaro said. "It was a hard game. But there's nothing I can tell them that's going to make them feel better. It's a part of growing up, it's a part of life."