His teammates and coaches joined him in the locker room for coach Steve Giddens’ postgame talk then vacated, but No. 9 stayed inside. He sat back down, tears streaming down his cheeks.
It’s tough, being on the losing side of the final game in the area’s most storied high school football rivalry, a game which Clay County won 7-6.
Tougher yet is being the guy who kicked low on an extra point and field goal and threw the interception that ended Lineville’s last-gasp drive.
Even after hugs and encouraging words from Giddens, Lyles struggled to find the words to describe his emotions.
“I can’t,” he said after emerging from the locker room. “I’m just really hurting right now.”
Lyles’ emotions melded into a brew of agony and ecstasy that filled Clay County High School’s Horn-White Stadium, even as the fans who packed it filed out.
Everyone had just experienced what the game program billed as “the end of a tradition,” the final game of a rivalry that started in 1922 and became the signature annual event in this rural Northern Alabama county.
Fans had filled the stands on both sides and every possible standing space. Some began tailgating as early as 5:30 a.m. for the final Clay Bowl before the two schools consolidate into Central High School of Clay County for the 2012-13 school year.
Signs lined both home and visiting-side fences. Television satellite trucks dotted the practice-field parking area behind the home grandstand.
And it’s not like the Clay Bowl needs extra hype. Convert emotion to electricity, and the Clay Bowl could probably power both Lineville and Ashland for weeks.
The rivalry’s power was in evidence even after the rivalry’s dramatic end, as Clay County senior Adam Farrow went pumping his fist and seeking out anyone he could find to hug.
He stopped to take a knee and bow his head then popped up and hugged another Clay County student.
“It’s overwhelming,” he said. “We’ve been working all summer, and it’s just great to be on the winning side.”
Farrow did have moments over the past week when he pondered what it would feel like to be on the losing side.
“Nobody wanted to be on the other side,” he said. “I just thank God for letting us win.”
In perhaps the night’s most forward-looking moment, both teams huddled together after the game to hear words from Giddens and Clay County coach Kris Herron.
“There’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Herron said as he looked over the Lineville players. “Hey, this is what it was founded on and what it was all about.
“After tonight and a day or two, this stuff is over. We start coming together.”
Giddens delivered similarly forward-looking remarks. Then both teams bowed heads and said the Lord’s Prayer as the stadium’s public address blared “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.”
Herron and Giddens hugged then both tried to sum up how it felt to be on the different ends of the rivalry’s final game.
“It’s indescribable,” said Herron, a member of Clay County’s coaching staff for 22 years. “To pull this out like that and then a classy game, sloppy for us offensively and defensively but hard guts, desire, faith, kept the faith and made a play when we needed to, it’s indescribable.”
Giddens, a 1980 Clay County grad and long-time Lineville coach, said he’s “heartbroken” for his players. Then he tried to reel the game back into perspective.
Since the two teams do not play in the same classification, it didn’t count against the Aggies’ region standings.
“We’re still Lineville,” said Giddens, also Lineville’s principal. “We’re going to finish the year up with what it deserves — our very best, honor and integrity.
“After it’s all said and done, we’ll put our best foot forward and make the new high school the very best in the state, but that time ain’t just right now.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.