BERNE — For coach George Gilbert, it took 34 seasons as a head coach. For the Tri-Central football program, it took 42 seasons of existence.
Both will tell you it was well worth the wait.
The No. 8-ranked Trojans imposed their will on host South Adams in Friday's Class A regional contest, wearing down the Starfires in a 28-7 victory for the program's first regional crown.
In his five years at TC, Gilbert has delivered the Trojans from the depths of 0-10 in 2009 to where they stand currently, 12-1 on the season, on a 12-game win streak and one win away from a berth in the state finals. Gilbert won three sectional titles in his tenure at Clinton Central, but Friday marked his first regional title as a head coach.
"I have a lot of pride for a group of kids with a lot of character and a community that stood behind us," Gilbert said. "When I came into this school everyone was concerned because I was the enemy. I told them we were going to play smashmouth football, and everyone laughed. I think people have stopped laughing now. Our program has taken off. Our coaches' plans were outstanding and so was the play of our kids. I'm just so proud of everybody."
Tri-Central's offense finished the night with 266 yards on 46 carries for an average of 5.8 yards per carry — less than a yard short of their season average of 6.5 per carry. Like he has all season, senior tailback Garrett Kelley shouldered the bulk of the load. Kelley finished with 92 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 27 carries, furthering what was already his single-season rushing record at TC.
"South Adams' defense flowed pretty well," Kelley said. "I haven't gone through the line and gotten popped like that in a long time. Our linemen were blocking fine. We got what we preached, which is three yards a carry, so I have to thank them. That's what helped us drive down the field every time. We didn't need the big breakaway touchdowns, we just needed to keep getting those three-yard gains. That's what we did. We're tough. We're really tough. We're going to hit you and we're going to drive down the field on you."