HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Each teary-eyed player who came into the coaching office to shake Mark St. Clair's hand, hug him or simply say thank you made it tougher and tougher for him to keep his emotions in check.
When the locker room finally fell quiet, St. Clair sat alone, lowered his head and took a moment to breathe.
His coaching career and the Hannibal football team's remarkable season were over.
That's a hard reality to accept, no matter if you're a 17-year-old student-athlete or a 54-year-old coach.
"It's tough, but you know sometime the season is going to end," St. Clair said after the Pirates lost 34-21 to MICDS in Saturday's Class 4 state quarterfinal matchup at Porter Stadium. "We felt like we were good enough to go a long ways, and we did. I don't think this takes away anything from what these kids have done."
A North Central Missouri Conference championship, a district title and the third quarterfinal appearance in the last four years is a solid resume for a team that rebounded from a disappointing ending a year ago to send St. Clair out the right way.
The Hall of Fame coach announced before the season began he was retiring at season's end. Neither he nor his players allowed that to be a distraction.
They didn't rely on it for motivation either. No one gave any "Win one for the Gipper" speeches.
"I'm honored and proud of the kids," St. Clair said. "I'm honored to be here. I'm proud of what these kids have done. I'm as proud of their personal growth as I am their athletic, football growth. That's the most important thing for me.
"To look at where we were last year and where we are this year, I appreciate what they've done. I appreciate their athleticism and the way they got better as a team. I appreciate more how they've become really good individuals."
That's St. Clair's influence.
Anyone who has spent time around the Hannibal football program during the last two decades knows the coaching has always been on point. You don't win 185 games with 21 winning seasons, make 14 playoff appearances or go undefeated in NCMC play 10 times without teaching the game the right way.
He also taught them to be respectful, committed and courageous. The Pirates learned to face adversity without fear, tackle all challenges and depend on one another. Playing for him made them good football players and better teammates.
"A lot of life lessons," senior tight end Lawson Rickey said. "Always work hard. Always be on time. Never slack. Do everything with a purpose."
That's the St. Clair way.
He and his late wife, MaryAnn, raised two daughters to have purpose. They battled MaryAnn's pancreatic cancer until the day she passed away with purpose. He will help his grandson, not yet a year old, live life that way, too.
His final team, much like his first 22 years ago, played that way until the last snap. When it was over, he reminded them the outcome didn't change the way he looked at this team or this season. In the postgame huddle on the field, he told them he was proud of them and honored to have coached them.
"I told them I loved them," St. Clair said.
Each one who stepped into his coaching office reiterated their love for him.
"I've been blessed," St. Clair said. "Everything I've been through in my life, I feel very blessed."