He had just thrown his fourth interception of the game against Lovejoy in Friday’s Class AAAAAA state semifinals, and on the next play, the Wildcats scored to make the score 56-28.
As Queen got up, his shoulders slumped for just a second.
He likely knew the Warriors were going to miss their chance to play Norcross next week for a state championship. He probably felt like he was letting his team down on its biggest stage.
For just that second, he was just a sophomore playing football with the big boys.
But after that second, Queen’s shoulders straightened and he jogged off the field with his head held high. Because in that next moment, he went from a defeated sophomore, back to being a leader.
He proved it on the next drive, when he took the team down the field — five plays, 67 yards and a touchdown.
Though North Cobb still lost 63-42, it was the kind of drive that it can use to build on heading into next season.
Still, that idea is of little solace today.
When Queen — who finished the season with more than 2,500 yards passing, nearly 1,000 yards rushing and a combined 43 touchdowns — and his teammates wake up this morning, the memories of last night’s game likely will still sting. And, if it did, they will soon realize that it’s a good thing — it's a pain that can be a driving factor going forward, because they will know how close they really came.
The Warriors led 21-7 with 7:45 to play in the second quarter and had the ball on the Lovejoy 25. A touchdown there and the Wildcats would have likely had to turn away from being able to hand the ball off to Georgia Tech-bound Travis Custis, who finished with nearly 300 yards and five touchdowns.
Instead, North Cobb got hit with bad luck. It appeared as if a pair of Warrior receivers either slipped, or were bumped out of their route. Queen’s attempted screen pass was intercepted, and it became the spark that lit Lovejoy’s fire.
Four plays later, the Wildcats were in the end zone, and anyone in the stadium, or watching the game on television, could feel the momentum switch.
Last week, it was the Warriors who trailed 21-7 against Mill Creek and got the big play to turn the game around. North Cobb went on to outscore the Hawks 35-14 the rest of the way.
The following day, Warriors coach Shane Queen said, when that happens, the opposing coach can feel the game changing. He can do everything to try and stop it, but there’s nothing he can do.
He said when you are the coach on the losing end, “it’s not a very good feeling.”
Unfortunately, on Friday, it happened to him.
After trailing 21-7, Lovejoy outscored North Cobb 56-21 over the final three quarters.
In a few days, when the pain of the loss subsides, the Warrior players and coaches will be able to start looking back on this season fondly. Before the season, not many in Cobb County would have expected the Warriors to go from 5-6 at the end of 2011, to 11-3 only 12 months later.
These Warriors woke up the echoes of the success of North Cobb football past. By advancing to the state semifinals for the first time since 1959, they put the football program back on the map, and now it will be the 2013 team that will have to take the next step.
North Cobb will have to find ways to replace defensive stalwarts like linebacker Shaun Daniels and lineman Eghosa Agbonghae, along with receiving standouts Xavier Borishade and Nick Miller, but a big nucleus on the offensive side of the ball returns.
Tyler Queen is now a known entity and his talent does not appear to have a ceiling. J’Vonte Herrod ran over Lovejoy’s defense for more than 100 yards, something no other back had been able to do all season. And the offense will also return "Mr. Everything" receiver/defensive back Cameron Albright and offensive line anchor Ernie McQuade.
Those players will learn from Friday’s game, be better for it, and will have the program back knocking on the door soon.
It sure won’t be another 53 years between semifinal appearances again.
Welcome back, North Cobb football.
John Bednarowski is sports editor of the Marietta Daily Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.twitter.com/jbednarowski.