This was new and rather unexpected. Sure, Mountain Lake Area coach Tim Kirk had talked about it during the season, but the Wolverines had not actually trailed in a game all season.
Now here it was, the state championship game, their point of focus all season, and they were down 14-0 midway through the second quarter.
"We talked all year about being uncomfortable, but we hadn't been uncomfortable all year," Kirk said. "This was the first time. And by two touchdowns."
Uncharted territory, perhaps, but Mountain Lake navigated it smoothly, tying the game just before halftime and going on to defeat Hancock 22-14 to win its first Nine-Man state championship.
Wolverines quarterback Abraham Stoesz threw two interceptions in the first half, including one that was returned by Matt Thompson 32 yards for a Hancock touchdown. But Stoesz bounced back to rush for 140 yards and a touchdown and passed for 92 and another score.
"This team responds better than any team I've had," Kirk said. "They just blow it off their shoulders and let's move on."
Mountain Lake (14-0) came into the season with the singular goal of winning the state title. It came close a year ago, falling to Spring Grove 40-18 in the championship game.
"That was our motto all year: Unfinished business," Stoesz said.
So when the Wolverines found themselves on the wrong end of the score before halftime, memories of 2018 gave them a kick in the pants.
"It felt a lot like last year," tight end/linebacker Adam Karschnik said. "Every game this year, I've written 40-18 on my wrist. I'm like, 'We're not going into halftime like last year.' "
Karschnik made sure of that, catching the game-tying touchdown pass and ensuing two-point conversion with two seconds left in the first half.
Mountain Lake took the lead for good on a 5-yard run by Stoesz late the third quarter. The Wolverines' defense, which had only allowed the Hancock offense one touchdown to that point, walled off the Owls (13-1) the rest of the way.
"Without a doubt, our defense helped us out today," Kirk said.