FRANKLIN - All coach Dan McLean could do was shake his head.
There was no Gatorade shower - perhaps because the concept of winning is new to his Tri-County Cougars - but his team's 14-0 playoff-clinching win over Holbrook/Avon yesterday left him soaked in something else: pride.
"To be in this situation, it's just amazing," McLean said of his team, which won just six games in his two previous seasons as head coach. "I'm so proud of them."
With the win, Tri-County improved to 4-0 in the Mayflower Small, good enough to clinch the league title as the Cougars hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over West Bridgewater and Holbrook/Avon.
Brief rain didn't dampen the day for Tri-County (7-2), though it did provide an added challenge for tacklers and runners alike. On the Cougars' opening drive, speedy quarterback Lucas Mistler took the ball around the left end for a 10-yard score, skidding through the mud just inside the pylon.
By game's end, Mistler's white-and-gold jersey looked as though it could star in a laundry detergent commercial. "It's slippery out there," McLean said. "Conditions were a factor."
As a result, both teams struggled to click on offense. After the teams swapped punts and turnovers on downs, Holbrook/Avon (6-2) put together a drive late in the second quarter, bringing the Bulldogs to Tri-County's 20. The drive came to an abrupt end when a pass was picked off by two-way threat Derek Mucciarone.
The Bulldogs coughed up a fumble deep in their end to start the third quarter, setting up Tri-County at the 20. Though the Cougars failed to capitalize, they struck on their next drive thanks to a change in strategy - they gave the ball to downhill runner Mike Foster.
"[In the first half], the spread was kind of working. We were getting some yards, but we really thought that we had to pound the ball in there," McLean said.
Foster capped an eight-play, 40-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run, then kicked the extra point to put Tri-County ahead, 14-0. McLean credited his coaching staff for the adjustment.
"That coaching staff is unbelievable," he said. "They came with a game plan and made unbelievable adjustments.
"That's what [the staff] wanted, just to win it for the kids."
As the clock ticked to zero, Tri-County celebrated the next step toward what would be its first Super Bowl appearance and no one was more enthusiastic than McLean.
"When [our staff] took over three years ago, our [goal] was to get to the playoffs, to win the Mayflower League," he said. "Even when we had bad seasons the last two years, we never swayed from that.
"We kept telling them, 'If you work hard enough, you'll get to your goal,' and here they are today."