The men from Madison weren't about to go down without a fight.
In the push for the last spot among the 12 advancing World Championship finalists, the Madison Scouts spent most of the season neck-and-neck with one of 2017's breakout corps, the Mandarins.
Fresh off of a difficult end to 2016 that saw the Scouts missing out on the Finals for the first time since 2009, the corps found its back against the wall when it fell to the Mandarins for the first time in its history ahead of the annual San Antonio regional in mid-July.
“After San Antonio, we said, ‘We can do more, let's do more,'” Scouts drum major Zachary Sheller said. “So we fought back — we kept throwing punches, we kept throwing kicks, and we're here now.”
Fast forwarding to Friday night's DCI World Championship Semifinals presented by Earasers Musicians Earplugs, the Madison Scouts emerged from what was once a tight competition and found themselves in 12th place headed back into the Finals, holding a resounding lead over their closest challengers.
"It feels amazing to be back in Finals," Scouts euphonium David Franz said. "This is my first year, and seeing the Scouts not make Finals last year was a real bummer because I was always a fan. So coming in this year, it just feels great to be part of a corps that makes it back into Finals."
With a score of 86.475, the Scouts led the Mandarins (13th, 85.550) at Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday by just under a point.
Despite falling just short of its first Finals appearance, the Sacramento corps capped off its 2017 season with its highest all-time finish as a World Class corps, improving upon its previous high of 17th place, achieved in three different years including last season.
“That was hands down the best run of the season. I don't think we could have done it any better,” Mandarins mellophone player Alex Wallace said. “This has been the best season I could have asked for.”
At the top of Friday's standings, the competition remained close among the three highest-scoring corps, with the Blue Devils (1st, 98.113) putting themselves just one win away from a seventh undefeated season.
With wins in the percussion and color guard captions, Santa Clara Vanguard (2nd, 97.700) continued to nip right at the heels of its in-state rival, remaining within a half point of the top for the second straight night.
Carolina Crown (3rd, 96.588) took top honors in brass once again, this time scoring 19.8 out of 20 points in its historically-strong caption.
“The kids in this horn line, it's all their own standard,” Crown brass caption head Matt Harloff said. “We have that standard of not only perfection, but being musical, being emotional, and being as close to perfect as possible. That's what always pushes us.”
Things were tighter than they have been since 2013 between the Bluecoats (4th, 95.213) and The Cavaliers (5th, 94.925), who recently began to make significant strides toward closing a gap that was at least a point for most of this season.
For the Green Machine — which defeated the defending World Champions in color guard and percussion — the energy of the competition as well as the goal of a strong finish to the season continues to drive the corps.
“We're so proud of our members,” Cavaliers executive director Chris Lugo said. “Of course it's out there that this is a competitive activity, let's not kid ourselves, but we're focused on being the absolute best 2017 Cavaliers we can possibly be. Tonight was another step toward achieving that goal.”
Continuing their exponentially improved season, the Boston Crusaders (6th, 93.400) scored nearly eight points higher than they did at last year's Semifinals, while keeping The Cadets (7th, 91.738) at arm's length. Friday marked the most the two have been separated since early July.
As they did in Thursday's Prelims, the Blue Knights (8th, 91.013) kept their advantage over Phantom Regiment (9th, 89.888) thanks to a strong edge in total music.
“I've never had a run through like that before,” Blue Knights baritone player Bailey Pruitt said. “This is my fifth year with the Blue Knights, and I've never seen the Blue Knights like this. We've been closer than any year I've seen.”
Arguably the two most competitive corps this season, Blue Stars (10th, 88.975) saw the distance between themselves and Crossmen (11th, 88.488) more than triple from Thursday's razor-thin gap of 0.15. Entering Saturday's Finals, the two have yet to be separated by more than a point in 14 head-to-head meetings, of which the Wisconsin corps has won nine.
As for The Academy (14th, 84.188), the “Heat Forged” corps from Arizona jumped ahead of the Colts (15th, 83.888) after falling below the Iowa corps in Prelims, therefore closing its season on a competitive high note.
“This was a great way to finish the season,” Academy mellophone player Sierra Callahan said. “It was our peak. We had kind of a rough start to the beginning of the season, and this was honestly the best way we could finish. We grew so much.”
With a score of 81.975, this year's Open Class gold medalists Vanguard Cadets capped off a historic season in 16th place, matching their highest all-time finish from 2015. Friday night also marked the second night in a row — and the second time ever — that the corps topped the Troopers (17th, 81.275).
According to Gabe Gallegos, the drum major of the Casper, Wyoming corps, an inspiring performance made saying goodbye to the 2017 season a bit easier.
“All I can say — the same thing I told my corps — is that getting off the drum major podium was the hardest thing I've had to do this season,” he said. “Admitting to myself that it's over, with one of the most memorable and most fun summers I've ever had, was difficult, but this run was the perfect exclamation point to the end of the season.”
Spirit of Atlanta (18th, 80.075) — in jumping ahead of Blue Devils B (19th, 80.050) — broke back into the top 20 for the first time since 2015 and eclipsed the 80-point scoring milestone for the first time since 2014. Never finishing outside the top 20 since joining DCI's World Class division in 2013, the Oregon Crusaders (20th, 79.050) weren't far behind.
Pacific Crest (21st, 78.000), performing a show called “Golden State of Mind” that certainly encapsulated its home state, finished its tour with a memorable last run, as drum set player Tate Kinsella attested.
“That performance was breathtaking. I have so many emotions right now, ” he said. “It's just an amazing feeling to hit that last note, look up and take it all in.”
Finishing just barely behind Legends (22nd, 76.225), Genesis (23rd, 76.213) wrapped up its first year as a World Class corps by scoring nearly three points higher than it did at last season's close.
“I started in the corps in 2012 when the horn line had 36 members,” Genesis drum major Benjamin Allgood said. “Now, it's a full horn line, and we're 150 strong. We've been fighting for this since our birth. We believe that World Class is where we belong, and I think this season's really proved that.”
Rounding out the Semifinals standings were Music City (24th, 74.275) and Spartans (25th, 73.475). For the Nashville corps, Friday's placement marked the corps' highest ever, while also being the first time they've performed in the Semifinals event since 2013.
“It's been a year of a lot of awesome accomplishments,” Music City drum major Jeremiah Wooten said. “The whole season, we've broken new records on the way. We're hoping to go World Class next year.”
With the remaining field of corps narrowed to 12, the focus shifts to the pinnacle of DCI's 45th anniversary season, Saturday night's DCI World Championship Finals.
Watch 2017's top 12 corps compete at the DCI World Championship Finals on FloMarching.com.