CADILLAC — Like Norse warriors of a millennia ago stepping foot on the homeland after a years-long voyage across the open seas, the Cadillac High School Viking football team returned home Saturday, into the open arms of a very proud community.

The arrival of the team's charter bus a little before 12:15 p.m. was signaled by the wailing sirens of a number of local police cruisers, fire trucks and emergency vehicles that escorted the players back to the high school.

Community members parked along Mitchell Street, huddled in groups on the sidewalk and emerged from storefronts to catch a glimpse of the team, which the night before battled Detroit Country Day in the school's first-ever state championship game.

While the loss to Detroit Country Day was heartbreaking for the team, members of the community said they've never been more proud.

"I think they had a phenomenal run this year," said Stefanie Burton, who stood outside her place of employment, Makse Boutique, to witness the climactic return of the Vikings.

"I'm so incredibly proud of each and every one of them," she added. "Every single one of those kids have hearts of gold. The loss was a tough one but I think people underestimated us the whole time. They (the team) showed them that Cadillac is strong. I can't wait for next year."

At the high school, parents and supporters waited for the students to return. Balloons displaying messages of congratulations and support were tied to vehicles and fences in the parking lot.

Kristen and Mike Anderson were waiting for their son, Connor — a sophomore who played as a lineman and on special teams for the Vikings.

"It was a great run for them," Kristen said. "I'll say this, I'm just as proud today as I was yesterday ... and the days before that."

"The way the community came together in support of the team is fantastic," Mike said. "The coach did a good job keeping the kids together (amid the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic)."

Mike said seeing his son play in the same stadium where the Detroit Lions compete was a bit of a surreal experience.

"It was really cool seeing them play on Ford Field," Mike said. "There's something about seeing your kid in the end zone ... on the jumbotron."

"There was great unity in the team, the coaches and the community," said Connor's grandmother, Margaret Newland, who was waiting at the high school with Connor's grandfather, Bob, to greet their grandson.

"I was impressed with their ability to come from behind and be resilient, along with the camaraderie of the team members," Bob said. "I'm looking forward to more of this team. It will be a lot of the same group of guys for years to come."