TROY, Mo. — Charos Sutton was on top of the world.
The Troy High quarterback had just guided his team on a well-orchestrated game-opening scoring drive in Saturday's Class 6 semifinal against Liberty North.
The talented junior was certain this would be a historic day for the program.
"I felt really good," Sutton said. "I thought we could move the ball like that all day."
It didn't work out that way.
Liberty North bounced back after giving up the early touchdown to score 28 unanswered points on the way to a 35-21 victory in the contest played before an overflow crowd estimated at 3,600 in Lincoln County.
The Eagles (11-1), who won their 11th in a row, will face CBC (12-1) in the state championship game at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Faurot Field in Columbia.
Troy completed the most successful campaign in school history with a 10-3 mark.
"This is not the outcome we wanted," explained Troy coach Ryan Nesbitt. "But it's been a great season. These guys, and what they've accomplished, it's amazing."
The Trojans came from out of nowhere to claim their first-ever state semifinal berth. They finished 3-7 last season and lost their final six games.
But this group bounced back in grand fashion with dramatic late-game magic in post-season wins over Hazelwood Central and rival Francis Howell.
The Cinderella run looked like it would continue after the first series on Saturday.
Sutton gave the wild, enthusiastic crowd reason to go crazy by engineering a nifty 10-play, 80-yard march after the opening kickoff sailed into the end zone. Junior running back Nick Bova capped off the drive with a 35-yard touchdown scamper around the right side.
"We had a good plan, felt good about it," Nesbitt said. "But (Liberty North) has good football players. They're here for a reason."
Liberty North responded with a march of its own that led to a 28-yard field goal by junior Blake Craig. Junior quarterback Sam Van Dyne then put his team in front to stay on the Eagles' next possession with a 43-yard scoring strike to sophomore Freddie Lavan that resulted in a 10-7 lead.
"These kids don't quit, they play their rear ends off down after down," Liberty North coach Greg Jones said. "That's who we are."
The Eagles added a 40-yard field goal by Craig to stretch the lead to 13-7 late in the second half before the Kansas City-area school broke the game open on a special teams play in the final minute of the quarter.
Junior Kaden Durso broke free to block a Troy punt and Melvin Laster pounced on the loose ball at the Trojans' 8-yard-line. Two plays later, Cayden Arzola bowled over from 5 yards out to push the lead to 21-7 with just 53 seconds left in the half.
"That hurt," Nesbitt said. "(13-7) compared to 20-7, it's a big difference."
Arzola ran in from eight yards out midway through the third quarter to push the lead to three scores.
"We were just able to play our version of football," said Van Dyne, an NCAA D-I prospect, who hit on 16-of-21 passes for 264 yards. "Our defense does its job and we just try our best to put as many points on the board as possible."
Troy never got closer than to within two touchdowns the rest of the way. Sutton hit Nathan Ryan on a 31-yard scoring toss to trim the deficit to 28-14 early in the final period.
But there was no late-game magic this time.
"It was so fun to play in a game like this and it means a lot," Sutton said. "The atmosphere was so cool. I just wish we could have come away with the win."
The entire town of Troy and the tiny communities surrounding it embraced the playoff run. The stands were totally full 45 minutes before the game and the tailgating scene in the parking lot prior to the contest provided a college-type atmosphere.
Fans stood around the field the entire contest. Some even stopped in their cars along the shoulder of Highway 61 just to get a glimpse of the action.
Nesbitt has helped change the entire complexion of a program that had been down for a long time.
Troy went 7-33 from 2014-2017 including an 0-10 season in 2014 where it was outscored 460-67.
Now, the Trojans have put those lean years in the rearview mirror.
"This shows everyone what we're capable of doing," Sutton said. "We want the target on our backs for a change. That's how we like it. We expect to be back here next year and that's all that matters."
Nesbitt is also looking forward to the future.
"It's been a long process," he said. "From where we started to where we are now, it's a testament to our kids."