The chase finally ended in Boonsboro late Saturday night, some 55 miles away from North Carroll where it began 24 days ago.
Bill Hyson and his fifth-ranked Francis Scott Key Eagles caught up with the second-ranked and previously unbeaten North Carroll Panthers, winning the state Class 2A-1A Region I wrestling tournament with 150 points to 145 1/2 for second-place North Carroll.
"This was sweeter than an ice cream sundae with a cherry on top," said one Francis Scott Key fan as North Carroll coach Dick Bauerlein walked by on his way out.
"This is everything we've dreamed of since they beat us in the dual match [31-24 on Feb. 3]," said another jubilant Eagles fan.
"We can handle it," Bauerlein said before he left.
Bauerlein even joked with Hyson before leaving.
"Dick Bauerlein isn't riding home with Bill Hyson because North Carroll lost," said the coach who traditionally has shared a bus with Hyson and the Eagles on trips to the regionals.
Then Bauerlein turned serious: "Actually I'm not riding home with Francis Scott Key because I'm riding with my wife."
Moments earlier, Bauerlein said his team's first setback this season was "a bit of a relief."
The Panthers coach also offered Hyson an opportunity to ride with him. Hyson opted to ride home on the team bus and savor every moment of one of the sweetest victories in his 14 years at Key.
It certainly eased the pain of three frustrating losses in earlier matchups with the Panthers this season.
"We fell a little short in the dual match, in the Rebel Invitational, and in the Carroll county tournament [169-161]," said Hyson.
"I think it's hard to look at these regionals as us against them," he said, "but it is certainly a part of it. Our kids needed to feel good about themselves heading into the state tournament. We'll enjoy this for a few days and then get ready for the states."
pTC It had been four years since Francis Scott Key beat North Carroll in a wrestling competition -- a dual match in 1989 -- and emotions had been running high around the Uniontown school since the Feb. 3 defeat.
Some of the Key fans had advised Hyson to stop sharing a bus with North Carroll on the trips to regionals. They were angry over Josh Bonnette's loss by a 4-3 decision to North Carroll's Eric Hott at 145 in the dual match this season.
The Key faithful and many of the Key wrestlers felt that Bonnette should have been awarded two last-second points for a takedown that was taken away from him.
Hyson has tried to avoid commenting on the controversial decision, preferring not to "sound like sour grapes."
Bauerlein has pointed out that the Panthers would have won the match anyway by one point even if Bonnette had won.
But the feelings have lingered and spice every meeting between the two schools.
"I'd like to be the bride once," said Hyson late Saturday afternoon as his Eagles were clinging to a 7 1/2 -point lead over the Panthers entering the consolation and championship finals.
When it was mentioned that someone has to lose these tight North Carroll-Key matchups, Key assistant coach Tim Harrison said: "I'm tired of it being us."
Two hours later, Hyson was no longer the bridesmaid and Harrison got his wish.
Key's Ed Null (27-1) clinched the 2A-1A Region I championship by pinning North Carroll's Shawn Utz in a surprisingly quick time of 1 minute, 16 seconds in their 160-pound bout.
Utz's reaction to being pinned showed the Panthers' frustration.
Utz fell to the mat and stayed there for what seemed like an eternity before getting up and walking over to Bauerlein, who consoled him.
It was almost as if Utz and the other Panthers wrestlers felt they could keep on beating the Eagles in these close encounters.
Null said: "It felt great to win the regionals for my team and to beat North Carroll since we've been so close to them in other matches this season. This is just the kind of confidence builder we needed."
The Eagles also got a major boost from Chris Beale (22-4) at 135 pounds. Beale had been out the past two weeks with mononucleosis, but came back strong with a second-place finish.
Bauerlein said he sensed trouble from the beginning Saturday.
"When Anthony Omelio [Liberty 103-pounder] didn't show up because he was hurt, I knew we were in trouble," said Bauerlein. "He could have kept Key's Jason Hooper from getting fourth place in 103 [seven points]."
Without Omelio, Liberty mustered only 18 points as a team and finished 12th.
However, North Carroll could have escaped without a loss if things had gone right in the 125-pound and 152-pound title bouts.
Tommy Kiler (27-1) was working on a 9-0 major decision over Catoctin's Mark Small at 125 pounds, when Small scored two points with 15 seconds left to lose 9-2 and take the major decision and a half-point away from Kiler.
At 152, North Carroll's Saidrick Lewis was leading, 4-3, going into the third period but wound up losing to Mike Bennett of Westmar, 6-5.
That cost the Panthers four more points and they finished 4 1/2 behind the Eagles.
"Those two bouts were the difference for us," said Bauerlein. "But we just didn't have the numbers (10 wrestlers to 12 for Key). Not having our heavyweight, Rick White who looks as if he's going to have surgery for anterior cruciate ligament damage, hurt. If he just finishes fifth that gives us five points and enough to win."
North Carroll's three unbeaten wrestlers -- Doug Dell at 103, Jeremy Myers at 112, and Chris Boog at 171 -- all won championships and extended their records to 27-0.
Key's Randy Owings won the 130-pound championship to run his record to 27-1.
Before heading off to a celebration dinner with his players, Hyson said: "In spite of feeling good about ourselves, there were some things we could have done better in some of the matches and we'll work on that before the states [Friday and Saturday at Western Maryland College]."