ARLINGTON -- Gilmer quarterback McLane Carter took a knee. Then he did it again. The second kneel punctuated a perfect season. 16-0. The Buckeyes were state champions.

But while his teammates erupted in celebration, Carter took a few steps to the side for a moment by himself. He had to have a few seconds with his brother first.

"I felt him," Carter said.

Carter and his family took Desmond Pollard in when the two were in elementary school. Less than a decade later Carter would watch Desmond pass away after he collapsed when they were playing basketball.

But Pollard never left. Carter and all the Gilmer Buckeyes have been sure of that since Pollard died March 2, just over a month before his 18th birthday. They've taken him along for the ride ever since -- at practice, at home and at every game. The Buckeyes captains carry Pollard's No. 8 jersey out to midfield every game for the coin toss. The jersey spends the rest of the game upright on the sidelines, now having watched Gilmer win 16 games in a row and the Class 4A Division II state championship over West Orange-Stark at AT&T Stadium.

"It's been hard. Some days have been great and other days it will just hit me," Carter said. "But we knew we had business to take care of. We knew it was for Dez and the Pollard family."

The entire Gilmer football team stopped by Pollard's gravesite before making the trip to Arlington on Saturday. It was a quiet moment, Carter said, and a special one to spend with their fallen teammate.

"We just wanted to stop and remind ourselves what this whole journey was all about," Gilmer coach Jeff Traylor said. "These guys love their buddy."

Gilmer even took it a step further. Kris Boyd had the idea to ask Gladewater coach John Berry if, along with Pollard's jersey, the Buckeyes could carry out the jersey of Nikalas Wisinger, a Bears player who died in a car wreck in September. Berry, Wisinger's family and the entire Gladewater team gladly approved.

"When we played Gladewater they had a sign with Dez on the left and Nik on the right," Traylor said. "Kris thought it was a great idea. We thought it would be a good token of a gesture to give the honor back they gave to Desmond that night."

You can't help but notice the similarities between Gilmer's recovery and incredible comeback in its 35-25 win over West Orange-Stark on Thursday and how the Buckeyes have dealt with losing a friend, teammate and brother to win the school's third state championship.

Broken after Pollard's death, the Buckeyes picked themselves up and carried with them a single phrase all season: #DEZign8. It's on their shirts, their Facebook and Twitter accounts, everyone. They won game after game, 15 of them. But on Friday, Gilmer walked into the locker room at halftime of its 16th game down 25-7 and the Buckeyes seemingly had no answer for West Orange-Stark.

And then, something changed.

Gilmer's Jackson Sikes intercepted Jack Dallas for the first change in possession that was not a West Orange-Stark touchdown. The Buckeyes scored seven plays later.

The ensuing kickoff stuck perfectly into the turf -- like it was off a 9-iron, Traylor said -- to pin the Mustangs inside their own 10. Gilmer recovered a fumble on the next play for its second touchdown in 11 seconds.

Gilmer fumbled on consecutive plays in the fourth quarter, only to get good bounces right back into a Buckeye's hands.

The Buckeyes' final scoring drive of a season where they finished as the second-highest scoring team in state history lasted eight plays, the same number on Desmond Pollard's jersey.

When the Buckeyes took the lead and put the finishing touches on their comeback, Desmond Pollard's brother, Darrion, tweeted from the airport as he waited with his Rice teammates for their flight to the Hawaii Bowl:

 

A Gilmer fan in the crowd held a sign that read, "A Hero in the Sky #DEZign8."

"(Pollard) was the best player on our team all season," Traylor said. "Our angel up above helped us get there."

For Carter, the comeback meant more than just a state championship. It gave him perhaps the most personal moment with Desmond he's had since March 2, 2014.

"I knew he put his hand on me," Carter said. "He said, 'Great job, brother. You did it.'"

-#DEZign8-

Gilmer's Desmond Pollard. (ETSN.fm)