by Rob Malcolm

PARADISE (CBS13) — The undefeated Paradise High football team, bonded by the Camp Fire, took the field Friday facing a different challenge.

The Bobcats were down six starting players, benched by the league after last week’s playoff game.

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For the fans and players, this night under the lights meant everything.

“It’s unreal to see them playing with the heart they’re playing with, it’s fantastic,” Wayne Stillman said.

It’s been weeks since the one-year anniversary of the devastating Camp Fire, which burned Paradise to the ground and killed 85 people. The Paradise High Bobcats rose from the ashes to an undefeated season. For them, football became more than just a game.

“It’s about pride, hope, perseverance, determination, strength, everything,” Maria Abernathy said. “We have something to prove.”

The Bobcats needed it all Friday night after league officials suspended six players after an on-field fight last week against Live Oak.

This week, they took to the field playing shorthanded against top-seeded West Valley, who was also undefeated. Players were well-aware of the significance.

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“You look at the stands, the whole town of Paradise is here, so it’s really our only event right now, so it means everything,” senior running back Lukas Hartley said.

Another player said they were playing for the brothers they lost.

A sign at the stadium gates read that the Bobcats were in Eagle territory, but the half time score of 21-0, suggesting the Bobcats gave it no attention.

Quarterback Danny Bettencourt said his teammates were all business as they prepared this week.

“We didn’t plan on coming in here short with six guys but, you know, we’re just dedicating this to them,” Bettencourt said.

The 28-13 win put the Bobcats into the Northern Section Division 3 Championship game next week where they could move on to a regional bowl game and then qualify for a state championship.

“I knew we could do it and here we are, we’re making our stand,” Bettencourt said.

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Out of the ashes, a spark lit the fire in their hearts, fueling this magical season for the Paradise Bobcats, which will continue for at least another week.