Even in a format as wide open as 7-on-7 football, this wasn't supposed to happen. This was a Branson team whose seven wins over the past three seasons equaled or fell short of eight teams who participated in Thursday's Parkview 7-on-7 tournament.
This was a Branson team that started off the day losing their first two games under a 99-degree sun. Didn't matter.
This was a Branson team that played a Neosho team in the championship that beat them 38-16 less than a year ago. Didn't matter.
With a sideline focused and loud enough for a Class 5 State Tournament matchup, Kyle Hunn evaded Wildcats coverage and parked himself in the right corner of the end zone, where quarterback Ryan Still cooly delivered what ended up being the title-clinching touchdown.
Neosho had one more shot as time expired, but the Branson defense held. They had won the title 14-12, and all but dogpiled at midfield in response.
"Our kids compete," Branson head coach Dan Henderson said. "We talk about competing every day. We compete in the weight room. We compete any time we're working out. Yeah, it's 7-on-7, but it was a chance for our kids to have some success, and we competed all day, and I'm proud of them for that."
But the Pirates' Cinderella-like run wasn't just attached to a finals win over Neosho. In the semifinals, Branson beat another COC-Large rival in Carthage, a group that topped the Pirates 41-6 last season and made a run to the Class 5's Final Four at states.
"It was good for our kids," Henderson said. "We just had to kind of grind it out. I'm looing forward to getting into our next season, getting a full team and seeing what we can do."
While it's only mid-June, Henderson hopes his Pirates can carry this momentum into next season. The Pirates haven't finished above .500 since a 7-3 record in 2010.
"It's something for us to build on," he said. "We had several kids who I thought had a great day. Still did a great job today coming in at quarterback. There were just guys who made plays all day for us. It wasn't pretty at times, but they just continued to compete and continued to play and they won it."
The sixth edition of the tournament at Parkview High School was played under a heat advisory, testing the conditioning for participants of the 20 programs before grass stains from summer football camps even begin to creep into the minds of team parents.
"We've got kids who were on fumes," Henderson said. "We had a guy or two who got dinged up a little bit. Some kids that started for us early didn't finish with us here today, and we had guys step in. It was a total group effort."
Neosho head coach Dustin Baldwin said he was happy with how his Wildcats competed under the unforgiving sun and in their run to the finals.
"We started off the day doing not too well, and then just kind of kept getting better," he said. "We tried to rotate guys in as much as we could, but they're tired. They'll sleep well tonight."
Baldwin and Henderson have a history that goes beyond a league rivalry. The two coached together for nine years at Mt. Vernon from 1999-2008.
"Coach Henderson is a good coach," Baldwin said. "We're old buddies. He knows what he's doing."
The three COC-Large teams in the tournament all reached the semifinals. The Harrison Goblins were the fourth seminfinal participant, falling to Neosho.
"I was pleased with how our guys competed," Baldwin said. "They were making plays. I think Coleman Scott was good [at quarterback] the rest of the day after a couple early picks. He's pretty accurate when he gets it going."