COLUMBIA — Hickman coach Arnel Monroe assured the players seated before him that wounds heal.
"Let this wound heal," he said minutes after the athletes walked silently back to their locker room as cross-town rival Rock Bridge celebrated its 27-10 victory behind them.
"Deal with the sting," Monroe said. "And walk away from it."
Senior quarterback Mason Murray sat at the end of a bench as his coach spoke. His eyes were red and teary. He rubbed at them.
Earlier in the game, there was 2:53 left on the clock, and his team was down 20-10. The ball was in his hands and it was fourth down. There were 14 yards dividing him from either what would be a first down — a ray of hope against the deficit — or what would be his last drive in his last Providence Bowl.
Before that moment, Murray had been scrambling all night, evading the oncoming and overwhelming pressure of the Bruins' rush. He succeeded near the end of the third quarter, looking right and going right, then twirling about and dashing 4 yards to convert on 4th-and-1. The Kewpies were able to first get on board on the next play with Justise Keith's 25-yard trot to make it just 14-7 for the Bruins.
Hickman's student section burst again with the chant that became a refrain. It came after both the good and the bad. "I believe that we can win!" the group roared over and over.
Murray spent much of the game on defense, playing another role that perhaps carried as much scrutiny as his offensive one. He lined up at cornerback and was face-to-face with the batch of Rock Bridge receivers that have proved to be dominant this season.
One Rock Bridge receiver, Alex Ofodile, rose over Murray in the fourth quarter with a frame at least 5 inches taller to secure his second touchdown catch of the night, making it 20-10.
The clock ticked down starting at 2:53, and the ball was snapped.
Murray looked to Grant Jones sprinting down the right sideline.
The pass sailed out of bounds.
"You lost the game. You are not defeated," Monroe told his players. "Walk out of the door with your head held high."
He reminded them that wounds have a way of healing. He reminded them that the season was still ahead of them, beyond them, outside the door.
Players removed their pads and walked through the door, past the sign on it that read: "Exit with courage. Return as a winner."