PUEBLO — There were plenty of tears, dozens of hugs and, most importantly for the De Beque High School boys basketball team, there was a state championship trophy.
The Dragons capped a perfect 25-0 season with a 55-42 win Saturday over Sangre de Cristo to capture the program's second Class 1A state title and first since 1998.
"This is all very surreal. I couldn't process it at first, but now that it has set in, it's pretty emotional and there are a lot of happy tears," said sophomore Brennan Rigsby, who scored 13 points. "Wesley, like always, came through in the clutch and nobody could stop him."
For the second straight day, fellow sophomore Wesley Ryan led the De Beque offense. After scoring 23 points in Friday's semifinals, Ryan poured in 21 of his game-high 27 in the second half to lift the Dragons.
"I have to do what's best for my team," Ryan said. "I felt more composed tonight than I did last night. It's not normal, but that's just the way I was feeling. I just wanted it so bad."
The first half was filled with the nerves expected of two teams that didn't have any experience playing in the biggest game of the year. Both squads missed countless layups and turned the ball over regularly.
The lead changed hands many times, but with De Beque leading 17-16 and time running down in the first half, Rigsby grabbed a rebound and fired the ball to a wide-open Jaden Jordan. The sophomore hit a 3-pointer as time expired to give the Dragons a 20-16 lead.
"That was a great shot by Jaden, and it definitely gave us a lot of momentum going into the second half," Ryan said. "That was an important shot."
De Beque came out of the locker room for the third quarter firing, outscoring Sangre de Cristo 19-5 in the quarter.
The Dragons controlled the boards, outhustled the Thunderbirds, and made their free throws down the stretch to preserve the lead.
First-year coach Jake Higuera couldn't help but be emotional as the final seconds ticked away and his team started celebrating.
"(Athletic Director) Rod Graham called me and said they needed somebody to come in to coach this team, and they believed I was the guy to do it," Higuera said. "The community and the kids were behind me, and it's been an unreal experience that I never thought would happen."
Although Higuera was getting his first taste of a state title game, two of his assistant coaches were already well-versed in big games for De Beque.
Brennan Rigsby Sr. and his brother, Brock, led De Beque to a third-place finish in 1997, before Brock finished the job and earned the crown a year later.
On Saturday night, the elder Rigsbys watched Brennan Jr. hoist the trophy.
"It's unbelievable. I've had the opportunity to coach Brennan, Wes and Jaden in club ball the past couple of years, so I knew that when I was asked to come to De Beque it could be something special," Brock said. "I'm glad these kids get to hang another picture up, because the one (from 1998) was getting lonely."
Saturday's win capped an extraordinary turnaround for De Beque. The Dragons went more than a decade without a winning season and were 2-18 only three years ago.
This storybook season may have taken the state by surprise, but not Higuera.
"At the end of last year, I told these guys that we were going to be league champs, district champs, regional champs, and then we were going to win the whole thing," Higuera said. "These guys believed in it and worked for it.
"The bus ride home will be the best one of our lives."