SPRINGFIELD TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Every once in a while, Pat Earley starts to laugh spontaneously when he thinks about the St. Xavier football season.
Two weeks have passed since the Bombers won the Division I state title in double-overtime in Columbus.
The improbable, heart-stopping postseason culminated in the school’s third state football title. St. X rallied in four consecutive weeks in the second half.
You have to forgive the 58-year-old Earley if there are two or three daily chuckles. “What a blast,” he said.
"It still hasn't hit me," said St. X senior running back Quinn Earley, who is the youngest son of Pat and his wife Judy. "It's still kind of surreal. At 5-5 nobody thought we had a chance to win the state title. It's been unbelievable."
Each St. X player’s family seemingly has a story to share about the triumphant title at Ohio Stadium.
For Earley and his family, the state title completed a journey that started with the program’s first championship in 2005 when the eldest son Patrick won a state ring as a junior.
Connor Earley followed that up with a 2007 state title as a junior.
This was Quinn's time to help the Bombers to a third title. It was the best thing that's happened to the 18-year-old up until this point.
“I couldn’t even talk after the game,” Pat said this week. “Patrick and Connor were sitting next to me (at the state final). I couldn’t breathe for about five minutes because they were hugging me. I was trying to hug and kiss my wife. The whole season was so much fun.”
For as enjoyable the outcome continues to be for those associated with the team, it’s worth remembering how many ups and downs the squad experienced.
Quinn was no exception. He suffered a partially torn meniscus in the preseason and a torn labrum and ligaments in the La Salle game. He suffered a concussion in the playoff game against Colerain and missed the regional final against Sycamore.
“It was pretty impressive to see him play through all those injuries,” said Patrick, who is 10 years older than Quinn and works for a bank in Chicago.
Patrick, a 2007 St. X graduate, was mostly a special teams and backup player in ’05. But this season, he admits he could experience the state journey vicariously through Quinn, who was the starting running back.
Patrick and Connor, a 2009 graduate, discussed early in the season how neat it would be if the Bombers could win another title. This time it would be for Quinn -- in his last opportunity as a senior. No pressure, kid brother.
This was the kid they used jokingly as a “tackling dummy” in the front yard growing up. They played football on their knees with him in the family room of their Western Hills home. The family tradition was to play football on Thanksgiving. "They beat the crap out of me," Quinn said.
Now, Quinn was one of the toughest players on the team and in the area for that matter. After all, he had broken his arm in five places his sophomore year.
Quinn had to shake his head after his junior season when Patrick and Connor playfully talked trash and wore their state championship rings in front of him during Thanksgiving 2015, just shortly after St. X lost to Colerain. Quinn took it and looked forward to his senior year.
Late this season, the rings took on a different connotation. Quinn saw the two state rings every morning at his parents’ kitchen table. Connor sent him a photo of his '07 every day of the week leading up to the state final. The jokes were left aside. This was pure motivation from his brothers. They wanted him to win it so badly.
This season started with high hopes but those were quickly dashed. The injuries piled up. The Bombers started 0-2. Alumni criticized the team on Twitter after its lopsided loss on national TV in August.
Still, Patrick watched or listened to every game online. He stayed up until 2 a.m. following a late October game on a business trip in Europe.
Connor, 24, kept tabs too while working for an event management company in Akron. He attended the regular-season game at Elder and caught the final three playoff games. He sensed something was different in the comeback win over Sycamore in an unseasonably warm night for the regional final at Hamilton.
“That was probably one of the best games I’ve ever seen,” said Connor, who played running back and special teams in ’07. “The excitement was incredible. You are almost speechless after that.”
The following week Patrick, 28, was able to fly home for Thanksgiving and he saw the Bombers defeat Pickerington Central in the state semifinal at Piqua. Quinn had his best statistical game of the season -- rushing for 120 yards on 18 carries. The Bombers found a way to win late in the game yet again.
“I told Quinn these games were giving me a heart attack,” Patrick said.
Both brothers knew Quinn and the Bombers had experienced just about every situation possible leading up to the state final.
Still, Connor was concerned how the state final started. St. Ignatius blocked a punt and went for a score. It was 10-0 before anyone could blink. He wondered if history would repeat itself like 2001 when St. Ignatius defeated St. X 37-6 in the state final.
But once the Bombers rallied and got the game into overtime, the family was convinced St. X would pull through. It did just that.
"Having the support of my family was unbelievable," Quinn said. "It showed how much they care for me. The reception hall after the game was awesome."
The family couldn't be more proud. Judy helped the team all season. She was sentimental thinking about washing Quinn's uniform for the last time before the state final.
But on this chilly late night in Columbus, the family celebrated a win for the ages. They smiled. They snapped photos. They hugged. They cried.
Patrick, Connor and Quinn stood next to coach Steve Specht in a post-game photo.
"One constant for the three championships is coach Specht," Patrick said. "He is a great coach and an even better person. He’s a great leader and role model for his student-athletes. Aside from teaching us a great deal about football, he taught my brothers and I even more about life."
Patrick and Connor have no shame in admitting the 2016 state title was the most special of all three championships.
“You couldn’t ask for a better ending for Quinn’s season and career,” Connor said.