CLEVELAND - At some point on Saturday night, even Steve Arnold had to concede that the mother of all comebacks simply wasn't going to happen.
It was at that time, perhaps early in the fourth quarter, the Warren G. Harding boys basketball coach - and soon-to-be football coach - realized he was about to walk off the court for the final time.
It wasn't supposed to end like this. The Raiders had plans - grand plans - and they included at least one game in Columbus next week. But Lakewood St. Edward had plans of its own, beginning with tenacious perimeter defense and an excellent team approach with the basketball.
Throw in the Eagles' sizzling start shooting and the Raiders' ice-cold start and you had the makings of an unexpectedly one-sided 66-44 St. Edward victory in a Division I regional final at Cleveland State University's Wolstein Center.
So instead of ending his basketball coaching career at Value City Arena as the leader of a Final Four team in Columbus, Arnold wound up saying goodbye on Saturday night.
"It was sort of a blank feeling in my mind. It was sort of ... I really didn't know what to think," Arnold said. "As it was dwindling down, you start thinking a little bit, 'Man, this is it.' But at the same time, you feel for our kids, for the players. You feel for our fans, because I know how bad they wanted this game."
But based on the numbers, the Eagles (18-7) may have wanted it more than the Raiders (21-4). St. Edward was more aggressive at both ends of the floor from start, which was when the game was decided.
The Eagles outscored Harding 13-3 in the first quarter and led 33-15 at halftime. The Raiders did not score until 5 minutes and 54 seconds into the game - on a foul shot by Arthur Cook - and didn't make a field goal until Jesse Hardin's jump shot with 1:36 to play in the first quarter.
Harding was just 4 of 22 in the first half, including 0 for 5 from 3-point range. It was balmy outside in downtown Cleveland on Saturday night, but the Raiders were frigid.
"We haven't started that bad in a long time," Arnold said. "That was probably the worst start we've had. We couldn't throw it on the ocean."
As much as Harding struggled, St. Edward had no problem finding the range. The Eagles made 14 of 28 first-half shots and were a sizzling 5 of 6 from 3-point range. Myles Hamilton, who led St. Edward with 21 points, seven rebounds and five assists, made all three of his 3-point attempts in the first half.
The Eagles finished 28 of 53 (53 percent) for the game. Interestingly, they never took another 3-point shot after halftime. They didn't need to, because by that time, Hamilton was splitting the Raiders' defense and dishing to teammates for ridiculously easy baskets.
Time, by then, was slipping away for Harding. But honestly, the clock was working against the Raiders right from the start - a brutally cold start.
"Credit St. Ed's defense," Arnold said. "Then once we got down, a couple of our players wanted to do it by themselves. You can't do that against St. Ed's. You can't do that. They will thrive on you trying to do it by yourself. We took some bad shots. We got out of our game plan."
But like most good teams, there was one last run left in the Raiders. Harding used an 8-0 run - sparked by two 3-pointers from Rasaun Smith - to cut a 39-18 deficit to 39-26 with 1:50 to play in the third quarter.
But the Raiders made a few mistakes in the closing moments of the quarter - breaking down on offense and defense - and the Eagles finished the period with two easy layups and two free throws for a 45-26 lead entering the final 8 minutes of the game and Arnold's basketball coaching career.
"I guess right now, it still hasn't hit me," he said. "I know as we stand here right now, I know I'm not going to coach another basketball game, but it hasn't hit me yet."
Just as it was once strange to see someone other than the late Frank Bubba directing things from the Raiders' bench, it will be strange to watch someone other than Arnold coach this team next season. But just like Bubba, Arnold has been more than just someone who stuck around a while. He connected with the players and fans and built a formidable program.
"I've poured my heart and soul into this program for 10 years," Arnold said. "We've been able to elevate it and we've played for championships. I'm proud of that. I'm proud of the players I've been able to coach, because obviously you don't do it just as a head coach. We've had some great players and the assistants I've had have been remarkable, loyal and hard-working."
Arnold's replacement will inherit a basketball program he feels he has taken good care of for a decade.
"As (good) as I possibly can," he said.
Now it's time for Arnold to try to work similar magic with Harding's football team.