COLUMBIA — At the end of what was nearly Tolton football's first signature victory, coach and athletic director Chad Masters stood on the field that was being prepared by a volunteer crew just 48 hours earlier.
The scoreboard flashed: Tolton 28, Southern Boone 32. Masters watched the line of players giving one another low fives.
For a moment, he scratched his head.
He shook the hand of Southern Boone's David Holland, the player who sat inactive for the first half but came out to vanquish a 21-8 Tolton lead by rushing, catching and punt-returning a trio of touchdowns.
And then Masters turned his back. He waved for his team to head to the locker room.
"We were in the game, we had a chance to win it, and we couldn't close it," he said. "But we're just not there yet. It's a process; it's a progression. Now, we're starting to see what (we) can be."
Last year, Tolton lost its game against Southern Boone 61-0. One season removed from its only win coming against the Mexico Military Academy and just a week after a 56-0 loss to Class 1 power Valle Catholic, Tolton opened at home with the intention of showing how things have changed entering its third year.
"We were pumped. We were ready to go," quarterback Christian Elliott said. "We had a lot of desire to win that game."
The 10 rows of bleachers were full. The new mascot costume ordered during the summer made its debut with the cheer squad.
Elliott finished his second possession of the game by plunging into the end zone, body extended. Three possessions later, he looped around to the left side of the field and finished 70 yards later in the end zone. Chaplain Mike Coleman, on the Tolton sideline, flung his ball cap in the air.
Elliott amassed 127 yards and two touchdowns with 10 carries on the game.
"He was lights-out in the first half," Masters said.
With less than five minutes left in the third quarter, he limped back to the sideline. Also playing as linebacker, Elliott said his "entire body started cramping."
Trainers gave him a bag of potato chips to eat and a jar of pickle juice to drink.
"I was desperately wanting to get back in there," he said. "It was one of the most frustrating moments ever for me, and quite emotional to be honest."
Not cleared to re-enter the game, Elliott could only watch. In for him was sophomore Rian Markes, a converted wide receiver.
"My head was spinning at first," Markes said. "First time being quarterback."
On Tolton's last push to reclaim the lead, the lefty slung passes to convert on a 4th-and-10 and on a 3rd-and-8. With 2:10 on the clock, his interception 24 yards from the end zone sealed the outcome.
"That kid showed a lot of gumption and toughness to step in at a moment's notice and try to carry the load of a team," Masters said of Markes. "So my hat's off to him."
Inside the weight room after the game, Markes and his teammates sat expressionless.
"You took a step forward for the program tonight," Masters said. "You battled, and it hurts. It should hurt."