If winning a state championship were easy, every team would have at least one to call their own.
Cascade Christian head coach Jon Gettman was well aware of that heading into last Saturday's Class 3A finale against Dayton in a battle of unbeatens.
Maybe that made it easier when the Challengers came up short, 34-28, in Cottage Grove.
Then again, maybe not.
Regardless, the sun came up again for Gettman and company on Sunday.
"Just kind of a peace and joy settled over me knowing it was a special group of kids and (we) went really as far as we could go," Gettman said of his reflections on a 13-1 season. "We had an opportunity to win and were right there with them to the end so there's really not much you can be upset about. That's a game that if you play over again we can certainly win."
"I absolutely couldn't be more thrilled with the group of kids and just how hard they worked," he added. "I really felt they played the toughest schedule they could in 3A, they played a full 10 (regular-season) games and anybody and everybody they could."
Saturday's showdown was all it was supposed to be, two of the state's finest teams waging a back-and-forth battle that was ultimately decided in the final minutes when Cascade Christian's last gasp came up short.
Thirty yards of total offense separated the two teams. Each scored once on special teams and each forced one turnover. Of the five football state championships conducted on Saturday, only the Cascade Christian-Dayton matchup was determined by less than 16 points.
"It was a one-score game throughout," said Gettman. "Every time we scored or responded, they came back. We were always trying to play catch up with them and, unfortunately, couldn't get over that last little hurdle."
"I felt like that last drive we were going to take it to them because we were taking it to them with a good push up front," he added. "It was just unfortunate how it ended but it was a great group of kids and we were really blessed this season."
Gettman's team was making its first state championship appearance since winning the Class 2A crown in 2006 under Andy Maurer. The Challengers had advanced to the 3A semifinals in every season since 2008 but it wasn't until this season that they were able to break through, and nothing that comes with that was lost on Gettman as he spoke with his players following Saturday's defeat.
"I was just proud of them," he said of his postgame message. "I told them that I know that it hurts now but they'll be able to look back and remember it all in a better light. They'll look at what-ifs and could'ves and should'ves now, but then they'll remember people who made big catches or blocks or made big runs and tackles and that will be what lasts."
"We were playing football for four months and together five and sometimes six days a week," he added, "and really a kind of brotherhood emerges and they'll be able to take away memories from that and treasure it. Yeah they didn't get first place but those guys accomplished quite a bit."
Cascade Christian loses 11 seniors, nine starters and two other key contributors, and Gettman said such a positive, hard-working group is impossible to replace. His hope, however, is the example they set will not go unnoticed.
"For the senior class, the challenge for them was not to leave a legacy on the field but leave a legacy off field as well and really do things better than ever before," said the 28-year-old coach. "They've hopefully shown the way of getting us to next level."
If anyone knows about following another's example, it's Gettman. A 2003 graduate of Cascade Christian, he served as a junior varsity assistant in 2004 and '05, advanced to varsity assistant in 2006 and '07 under Maurer and then served as offensive coordinator in 2008 and '09.
The school placed an interim head coaching tag on him when he replaced Maurer prior to the 2010 campaign and removed it before the 2011 season.
"I was a water boy, really, just kinda doing anything I could to help out," he said of 2004.
From there, it's been Gettman's pleasure to have received a lot of help along the way to evolve into the coach he is today — and still hopes to become.
"I played under Andy and coached with Andy and he did a ton for me," said Gettman. "He really helped me understand the importance of enjoying it and that this is a great time in the kids' lives as well and the importance of helping them enjoy it. Coach Maurer taught me to not get caught up in just winning and losing but to focus on the process and each year make that process stronger."
Gettman said he was probably over his head when he took on the offensive coordinator's role when he did, and likely in a similar state when he became head coach. Whether it was Maurer's influence or the efforts of former Challengers assistant Brandon Boice, whom he credits a lot for teaching him to read and recognize the X's and O's part of the game, Gettman said he's been fortunate to have someone there for him each step of the way.
That continues today, he said, with the help he receives from assistant coaches Jeff Olson, Jerry Burchfiel, Mike Schaan, Steve Furst, Kevin Scott, Leroy Brite, Dave Heidegger, Jim Killam and Mike Ragan.
"It's not an ego-driven program," Gettman said proudly. "It takes a lot of people working hard to do what we've done and they're really humble about it. There are a lot of coaches here who maybe get a little stipend but really volunteer their time. When you get a good group of men together who are here helping kids like that for the right reasons, it creates an environment to help kids prepare to do well."
That environment includes a commitment to being consistent in what is taught year in and year out, as well as a message that it's the extra that turns ordinary into extraordinary.
"If we can get every kid to buy in to outworking their opponent then you can have success," he said. "Now the kids have upped their expectations but with that they have to up their work ethic as well."
And that includes Gettman, who was back to catching up on work as a math teacher at Cascade Christian on Monday but still mulling over what he could glean from Saturday night's loss.
"What I learned is how much hard work it takes to really get there and anything less than that and you can't make it back," he said of the 2012 run to the state final. "That's the big thing. I hope some of the juniors and sophomores and freshmen were able to see that. It's not just about players on the field, it's far beyond that. It's about a commitment and dedication toward excellence. And even if you do play hard and give your all, it's not always in your hands or an outcome you can control."
And in those sad cases, you still have to hold your head up high and carry on.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry