The message conveyed by Louisburg football coach Kyle Littrell was one of love, family and solid fundamental execution.
It was a little cliché, perhaps, but never more relevant.
The Wildcats dominated Friday from start to finish in a 28-0 victory over Spring Hill.
It was a great win under ideal circumstances.
But for Louisburg — the team and the community — this season-opening victory was just the thing to soothe aching hearts.
On Aug. 18, the Wildcats’ senior quarterback, Auston McLellan, was killed in a car accident.
Louisburg was forced to reconcile tragedy, grief and loss while preparing for the 2013 season without their friend, their teammate, their brother.
“We were already a strong tight group, but now we’re that much tighter, and that’s much more of what (Auston) would want. We didn’t really have a choice,” senior lineman T.J. McKiernan said. “We had to come together strong, and if not we were going to fall apart. That’s what a team is. You have to fight back.”
If there was one community that understood Louisburg’s pain, it’s Spring Hill. Three years ago, Spring Hill football player Nathan Stiles collapsed on the field in a game against Osawatomie. He was airlifted from the field and died the next night.
DeSoto honored Stiles and Spring Hill in the Broncos’ 2011 season opener. Both teams came to the hash marks for the pregame coin toss, then shook hands at midfield.
Spring Hill coach Anthony Orrick repeated that act of solidarity with Louisburg on Friday.
“It meant a lot to our kids, and we wanted to do the same for them,” Orrick said. “We talked a little bit, and I tried to give him as much advice and help as I could. I wanted to give him some support.”
Littrell was happy to have the help.
“I thought it was gracious and humble and just a class act on his side that he knows what we’re going through and he’s there to help,” Littrell said.
So, too, was the Louisburg community. The stands, which stretched 60 yards, were filled from top to bottom with purple-clad Wildcat fans.
“It was very important to the community because the community really did come together,” senior Luke Hupp said. “They’re doing their part, and we’re doing our part. It was a very, very big night tonight.”
It was a perfect night for football. Cicadas hummed from the trees lining the east side of the stadium. Smoke rolled from the grill behind the stands on the west side. A warm sunset gave way to a refreshing breeze and Friday night lights.
McLellan’s portrait hung outside the stadium alongside his senior teammates. “Wildcat Forever,” is inscribed above his photo, in pink marker.
Below the photo was the saying, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away.”
The Wildcats will go forward as one, because that’s what they’ve always done. That’s what they know Auston would want.
“We’ve always been a tight-knit group, and after this, we’re even closer. Honestly, if we get any closer, it’s gonna get a little weird,” Hupp said with a smile. “I know he (Auston) was leading from upstairs, too. I know he was leading from upstairs.”
Louisburg won with a team effort on Friday. Austin Terry threw a pair of touchdown passes. Alex Dunn rushed for a game-high 127 yards and a touchdown. Hupp rumbled for a touchdown. The defense didn’t allow Spring Hill within 25 yards of the end zone.
“Thinking about (Auston), that’s exactly what he’d want,” McKiernan said.
On this night, it was exactly what Louisburg — the team and community — needed.