CARY - Players and coaches emerged from the locker room tunnel, stepping further onto the field and into one of the most surreal scenes in Carolina RailHawks franchise history.
Some of the last ones to enter the playing field hadnt been outside since the day before.
The roughly 50 or so fans who were left over from the 3,158 who were at the matchs start - 7:08 p.m. Saturday evening - surrounded the tunnel and defiantly chanted RailHawks love the rain!
The statement couldnt be proven right or wrong.
Four hours had gone by without soccer.
In its place was plenty of lightning, rain and newly-sprouted mushrooms on the WakeMed Soccer Park pitch.
The shouts of the diehard fans who hadnt strayed too far from the stadium were all the stadium noise remaining as both sides began their mandatory warm-ups at 11:51 p.m. Saturday night.
And at 12:23 a.m. Sunday morning, the RailHawks were picking up where their match against the Minnesota Stars had left off at 8:17 p.m. Saturday - the 47:29 mark in the second half.
The longest game in franchise history came to its conclusion at 12:58 a.m., with Carolina holding on to a 1-0 win. Cary native Zack Schilawskis goal, scored in the games 10th minute, held up for five and a half hours.
The RailHawks (6-5-6) are no stranger to inclement summer weather ruining home matches. On July 3, two separate lightning delays prompted an early end to a 1-0 win against the visiting Atlanta Silverbacks.
But the match with the Stars (7-6-5) was never abandoned, even with the radar showing that the thunderstorms were going to be rolling through the area for hours.Stubborn Stars
Per North American Soccer League rules, all three parties officials and both head coaches must agree whether or not to call a match. So long as the second half has started, the match can be called early and hold up as a final.
But Stars coach Manny Lagos wouldnt budge. A win would put Minnesota third in the standings.
RailHawks coach Colin Clarke said that the rule needs changing.
I think somewhere down the line, common sense needs to prevail and the league needs to have a cutoff point. Because, yeah, we can wait here all night, but its not healthy for the players. Its 1 oclock in the morning. And you dont play soccer games at 1 oclock in the morning, Clarke said.
This game shouldve been called off, for me, at about 11 oclock.Passing time
Clarke said the team was watching The Dark Knight, showing on TNT. They missed the first 17 minutes, at minimum.
But The Dark Knight, which took up three hours and 15 minutes of programming, was done before the lightning was.
RailHawks midfielder Amir Lowery said that the team grew hungry, and was angered, thinking the game should have been called.
Meanwhile, the stadium speakers were ready with a full rain-related playlist. Among the songs: Riders on the Storm by The Doors, Fire and Rain by James Taylor, Thunderstruck by ACDC, Set Fire to Rain by Adele, Umbrella by Rihanna and Singing in the Rain from the same-named famous Broadway musical.Quirks, tempers take over
Tempers were short in the final 42 minutes of soccer, including referee Daniel Radford, which could clearly be heard yelling to Lagos: Thats enough! Im not going to take it anymore!
I thought (the delay) affected (the referee) more than anyone, Clarke said. Carolina captain Kupono Low was shown two yellow cards after the restart, meaning the RailHawks played a man down for the final 14 minutes.
Rookie Jamie Finch, recently graduated from Washington, made his pro debut at 12:44 a.m.
Finch posed the question via Twitter after the game: Is it safe to assume that I am the first person in professional soccer history to make their debut at 12:45 a.m. in the sixth hour of a game?
RailHawks midfielder Brian Shriver left the game in the 34th minute - 7:41 p.m. - with a lower back injury.
It was so long ago, hes probably fit now, Clarke said jokingly.Redemption for fans
Soccer in the south has its share of drawbacks in the summer.
Heat and humidity presents a struggle on many gamedays. On others, like Saturday, its a billowing summer thunderstorm.
The RailHawks have faced lightning delays four times in the last two years, all but one coming in the month of July.
The team is offering a buy-one-get-one deal for the next home match on Aug. 4 for the thousands of fans who were chased off by the elements.
It was a crazy night, and well try to make something positive out of it, said RailHawks president Curt Johnson.