RADFORD — Winning is always preferable to the alternative, but Drew Friedrichs and his Jamestown High soccer teammates appreciate the motivational value of losing, particularly on the sport's grandest stage.
Each of the previous two years, the Eagles came to the Group AA final four and suffered agonizing defeats in the semifinals.
"That bus ride home, that's the game-breaker," Friedrichs said. "Four hours sitting on a quiet bus. Four hours of having it sink in how you messed up and lost it. You were that close and you lost it. I could not do that one more time."
The Eagles' bus ride home Saturday was far more jubilant, after a pulsating 4-3 win over Tuscarora in the state title game.
Jamestown earned the school's third boys' soccer championship – and earned is the accurate descriptor – after a weekend that properly tested the Eagles, physically and emotionally.
They got up off the mat in Friday's semifinal, rallying from two goals down for a 3-2 win against Jefferson Forest. On Saturday, they delivered the first punch, withstood a Tuscarora surge and then found sufficient energy and focus at both ends to win their first title since 2008.
"Much like (Friday), when the momentum swings like that, it's a tough thing to do to put your foot on it and get it back," Eagles coach Bobby O'Brien said. "They were able to figure it out and kind of push through it, and find that will to win. These seniors have been through so much."
That included an overtime loss to Hidden Valley in the state semifinals two years ago and a loss to traditional power Blacksburg in the 2011 semifinals, with a team O'Brien and the players knew was capable of winning the whole thing. That drove them during offseason workouts and through the early part of this year when they plugged holes and answered questions.
"I think it was a huge factor," senior forward Patrick Kelly said. "We wanted to get back here. This was our goal. We were exhausted from the game (Friday), but Bobby was like, 'Look, you guys have wanted to be here your entire high school career, this is everything you've ever dreamed of, you're not going to let down.'"
Kelly, the Bay Rivers District and Region I Player of the Year, left a huge imprint on Saturday's game. He had a goal, an assist, an indirect assist, and registered a nearly indomitable work rate.
Kelly outfought two defenders and the goalkeeper that led to an early corner kick, which resulted in the first goal in the game's seventh minute. Four minutes later, he delivered a cross that Jon Cullom headed in for a 2-0 lead.
He convered a penalty kick after a Tuscarora hand-ball in the box that gave the Eagles a 3-1 halftime lead. In the second half, he dropped back to midfield for a long stretch to help blunt Tuscarora's dangerous attackers. After Cullom's second goal put the Eagles up 4-3, he dropped back to defense and helped mark Tuscarora goal-scoring machine Angel Ceron Garcia in the final 7 1/2 minutes.
Garcia scored twice earlier in the second half, as Tuscarora threatened to do to the Eagles what they had done to Jefferson Forest the day before.
"In the second half, we're all exhausted," Kelly said. "They had just come back and tied it up. Everyone wanted to quit, and it was just like, we can do this. We did it (Friday), we can do it today."
Kelly and the senior core of Friedrichs, Dan and Phil Geyer and Hunter Hartnett were in middle school when Jamestown won its last title in 2008.
"I went to a lot of the games and watched how they did it," Hartnett said. "They were a great team, they were strong all the way around. I don't know if we're as good as them, but we have to be pretty close."
O'Brien has told his team as much. Jamestown's last title came his first year as coach, and though he got to experience a championship with younger brother Patrick in goal, he said this one in many ways is nicer.
"I was only with that group for a year," he said. "I didn't have the bond that I have with this group that's been developing for four years. For me to be able to send these guys off like this is pretty special."
Certainly, the Eagles would have preferred multiple state championships, but in some ways gratification delayed makes the work and the journey all the sweeter.
"Oh man, it's not the trophy, it's not the T-shirt, it's not the picture on the wall," Friedrichs said. "It's definitely the feeling of just: we've done it; there's nothing left; we won. I can't even describe it, there's no words. To see everyone's face, to just look at someone and instantly break into a smile because you're feeling the same thing. You don't even know what to do."
The first thing is to enjoy the bus ride home.