Cars were already packed into Canton South High School's parking lot from the building all the way to the very end of Clyde Brechbuler Stadium last Friday by 7 p.m.
It was half an hour before the scheduled tipoff of the Wildcats' boys basketball season finale against Alliance. The packed lot and buzz inside Red Ash Gymnasium may have reminded some folks of the energy back in 2003.
South advanced all the way to the state semifinal game that year, and it was also the last time the Wildcats won the Northeastern Buckeye Conference title.
Until Friday night came around.
The Wildcats reclaimed the NBC crown outright by sweating out a 48-46 win over Alliance.
South wasn't able to let their first conference title in 10 years sink in until the final buzzer sounded. The Wildcats may have felt a little eerie as they watched Parrish Martin fire a last second heave just inside the half court line.
"We were just saying we hope he doesn't hit this one," senior Jason Merriweather said.
The shot went wide left of the basket and the celebration was finally underway. South had finished the regular season at 20-2 after finishing last year with only six wins.
At first, players jumped around and mobbed each other at half court with a raucous crowd of more than 1,200 going crazy.
Students then joined the players on the floor and later sang the Canton South alma matter as the pep band played it.
Nearly 20 minutes after the game, few people left as they watched players and coaches cut down the nets.
South senior Kyle Deckerd thoroughly enjoyed playing his last home game in front of a packed house.
"In all four years I've been here, this is the biggest crowd we've had," Deckerd said. "We're happy so many people came out."
Deckerd gave his team a big lift as time was winding down in the first and third quarters. The six-foot wing man buried a 3-pointer from the right wing at the buzzer to tie the game at nine after one.
He then nailed a fall-away 3-pointer as he was fouled at the end of the third. Deckerd completed the 4-point play to give his team a 37-28 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Senior Armand Fontes finished with 14 points to give him 1,000 for his high school career. He received a small basketball with a large red number 1,000 for his achievement as he cut down his portion of the net.
Fontes said the home-court victory should give South some momentum.
"There's no better way to end the year out, especially at home," he said. "We feel we can take this all the way into the tournament."
After all of his players and assistant coaches received their share of the net, head coach Frank Spotleson had his turn to cut the rest down.
He trimmed it off to a rousing cheer from the crowd, held it up for a moment and then put it around his head like a necklace as he gave a big smile.
Spotleson certainly enjoyed winning the conference title, but he said he couldn't be happier for his players.
"I just told them I'm as proud of them as I could possibly be," Spotleson said. "They work so hard and at the start of the year nobody expected this. But they played hard and came to work every day."
The Wildcats started the week on Tuesday with a 63-47 win over Dover. Fontes led his team with 17 points, Deckerd added 16 points and Josh Lyon added 13.
Despite its big win on Friday, South will now have a tough task ahead in the Canton Division II district tournament. The Wildcats open up postseason play against Tuslaw on Tuesday, Feb 26, at the Canton Memorial Fieldhouse with a 6:15 p.m. tipoff.
South is the top seed, but it is in the same district as Marlington and Akron St. Vincent St. Mary. Marlington handed the Wildcats one of their two losses this season and St. Vincent St. Mary spent time ranked in the Division II Associated Press state poll.
Said Deckerd of what lies ahead for his team: "We know we are going to have a tough tournament."