LAKE ST. LOUIS — Even though there was snow on the ground and the temperature was around the freezing mark, Liberty juniors Tyler Cotton and Blake Seaton were determined to drench their coach.
"It's a district championship, of course, we were soaking him," Cotton said.
Liberty coach Ryan McMillen got the Gatorade bath that has been five years in the making as the Eagles captured their first district title with a 23-8 win over Hannibal in the Class 4 District 4 championship game on Friday at Liberty High.
"It's such an awesome feeling," McMillen said.
Liberty (9-3) will play at Ladue (11-1) on Saturday in the quarterfinal round after the Rams defeated Summit 35-14 in the District 3 final on Friday.
The Eagles, predominantly a run-oriented team, took to the air and hurt Hannibal repeatedly with their passing wizardry. Seaton went 8-for-13 for 172 yards and two scores.
"They were crowding the box on us to stop the run," McMillen said. "That's what teams have been doing all year and what teams will keep doing."
Cotton took advantage of that man-to-man coverage and the speedy receiver burned Hannibal's defense for 107 yards and two scores on four receptions.
"They just couldn't guard me," Cotton said.
Though sophomore Alex Fillner had two of the Eagles' four interceptions, it was his late-game catch on third down that he felt was his biggest contribution.
"The interceptions were nice, but at the end of the game, you don't know what's going to happen and I felt that the catch really put the game away," Fillner said.
After Fillner's 25-yard reception set up the Eagles inside the 10-yard line, Seaton plunged in from 1 yard out to push the lead to 23-8 late in regulation.
Despite Cotton and Seaton getting the Gatorade bath ready, they weren't about to douse their coach just yet.
"I never like to celebrate too early," McMillen said. "When we got that pick, that's when I felt the game was over because they're a great team with some good players over there."
The game-ending interception was the fifth turnover for the Pirates, who end the season 7-5.
Hannibal took a brief 8-7 lead in the third quarter after the Pirates converted on a fourth-and-goal from the 16.
But the atmosphere on the Liberty sideline never changed.
"We live by a couple of principles and one of them is, 'doesn't matter, get better,'" McMillen said. "Good or bad - and that was bad - but it didn't matter, we had to move on."
Liberty responded with a long drive that ended in a 31-yard field goal by senior Josh Paubel.
McMillen envisioned bringing a district title to Liberty when he took over the brand new program in 2014. Despite the struggles early - only one playoff win in the first four seasons - he never lost faith.
"You always kind of envision this because these are things you work for," McMillen said. "This quick, in five years, it was a lot of hard work by a lot of good people. A lot of assistant coaches, administrators, players, it's just an awesome season."