By Lynn Saternow

Herald Sports Editor

NO MATTER how you look at it, at the end of every sports season only one team is completely happy. Unfortunately, in PIAA Class A football that team isn’t our own West Middlesex Big Reds.

I say “our own” because when a local team makes it to state, the whole of Mercer County rallies behind them. Even many fans from rivals Kennedy Catholic and Sharpsville were rooting for the Big Reds in an almost hopeless task against powerful Southern Columbia.

I was at UPMC hospital in Pittsburgh Friday morning when a man from Sharpsville came up to me and said he hoped his appointment was fast so he could get home and watch West Middlesex on TV.

Most of the talk at local “watering holes” this past week was about West Middlesex.

Here at The Herald, I had the game on TV while I listened to the Mark Slezak and Bob and Jeff Greenburg on WPIC. It was a little strange, however, since the televised game was on a few seconds delay so I knew what was going to happen before it came on the screen.

The Big Reds should hold their heads high. They gave everything they had and never quit, but sometimes the other team is just better. Obviously when you win a state championship five straight years in football, you are one heckuva team. And obviously, when you win five straight years the PIAA should be saying: “What the heck is going on?”

When I send in my All-State votes to the Associated Press on Monday, you can bet Brian Hoffman will get my vote as Class A Coach of the Year and some of the players will also be there. It was a phenomenal year for a school that for decades was not even a blip on the state radar screen.

And while it hurts to lose, that pain will eventually go away. And when it does, the entire team will realize how much they have accomplished. They are a band of brothers who fought against incomprehensible odds. And win or lose, all year they did it together. In my long career in covering sports, I have seen few teams that had the camaraderie of the Big Reds.

When these players look back years from now, it won’t be the 15 wins and 1 loss they’ll remember most. It won’t be the “Hail Mary” pass that beat Coudersport in the last seconds. And it won’t be the loss in the state finals.

They’ll remember being in that huddle and looking into each others eyes, sharing glory ... and sharing pain. That’s what they’ll miss the most.

And when things get tough on their jobs or in their family life, they can look back at that state game when they never quit trying until the final whistle and say: “I can handle it. I’ve been there before.”

I look back at when my son, Joel, lost in the state wrestling finals. After the match, someone came up to me and asked, “Aren’t you disappointed?”

I quickly replied: “I’m disappointed for him because I know how badly he wanted to win. But how can I be disappointed that my son is the second best wrestler in the state?”

And that’s how the entire “Big Reds’ family” should feel. Every other team in this state would have traded places with West Middlesex to be able to say they were the state runners-up. Every team in the state wishes they could say that they were the District 10 champions and posted 15 wins, the most ever for a Mercer County team. Every team dreams of being in “The Show” at Hershey.

And for the Big Reds players, family, friends and fans, it’s not so much the final outcome that they’ll be thinking about when they remember this season.

Instead, they’ll look at each other and say: “Man, what a ride!”

ä It was a great year of fall sports for the Big Reds. Congratulations also need to go out to the state champion cross-country team of coach Bob Morris. While cross country doesn’t get the fanfare of football, the effort of the athletes is just as great.

While cross country — like golf and wrestling — is actually an individual sport where they just happen to keep a team score, it’s a great accomplishment to assemble that many good runners and bring home a state title.

Man, what a run!

ä There will be no championships for the Steelers or Browns this season, but Pittsburgh can spoil Carolina’s playoff hopes today. Both teams had high hopes before the season, but inconsistency at quarterback has been a problem for both. While coach Bill Cowher will soon be living in the Carolinas with his family, this won’t be such a happy time. Carolina will prevail, 20-13.

The Browns are in for huge trouble today against the former Browns — the Ravens. Baltimore is too good for this team. It’s tryout time for Browns quarterback Derek Anderson, so I hope he does well. But look for Baltimore to roll, 30-13.

Last week my picks went 8-8 for a season mark of 130-73. Following are the rest of this week’s selections, betting line in parentheses just for fun:

Cincy (plus 3) over Indy

San Diego (-8 1/2) over Kansas City

NY Giants (-5 1/2) over Philly

NY Jets (plus 3) over Minnesota

New Orleans (-9 1/2) over Washington

Miami (plus 1) over Buffalo

New England (-11 1/2) over Houston

Jacksonville (-3) over Tennessee

Chicago (-13) over Tampa

Arizona (plus 1 1/2) over Denver

Green Bay (-5) over Detroit

St. Louis (-2 1/2) over Oakland

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