TODAY   |  November 24, 2013

Town hit by tornado rallies around football team

The town of Washington, Ill., took a step towards recovery as its beloved high school football team played in the state semi-finals, with players in borrowed jerseys and many spectators in the stands who have recently lost their homes. NBC’s Kristen Dahlgren reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> been a week since a tornado devastated the town of washington , illinois. residents have been working around the clock trying to put things back together. there's been an immense outpouring of support. that was made more clear when the town's be loved football team played in the state semifinals on saturday. kristen dahlgren has their story.

>> reporter: for the washington panthers, it was supposed to be a rebuilding year. few expected their undefeated season, and nobody expected this. a vicious tornado that left homes and lives in pieces. this became the type of rebuilding the panthers took on.

>> everyone comes to games. they're always packed we've got to come out for them.

>> reporter: when the team got back on the field just one week after the twister for its first state semifinal game in 28 years.

>> this is the first time i've seen chris since -- we met him at the disaster.

>> reporter: almost everyone was there.

>> community support, that's all we're here for, the community.

>> reporter: to feel normal if even for a little while.

>> let's go kick some booty.

>> reporter: some players wearing borrowed jerseys. at least eight lost their homes, but they were there.

>> what changes today is i'm not thinking about that pile of rubble at 900 westminster. it doesn't matter.

>> reporter: for once, it wasn't about what they lost. in the end it wasn't about winning either because no matter what it said on the scoreboard --

>> don't worry about it, guys, you've made washington proud.

>> reporter: their opponent wouldn't let them be defeated. the sacred heart cyclones paid for seven buses to get washington residents to the game. they fed players and fans and raised more than $50,000 for their rivals. after the game they shared their tears.

>> we're there for you.

>> reporter: helping washington to say while a team named cyclones won on the field, their community is much stronger than a tornado.

>> we're going to rebuild. we'll be great. we'll be back next year.

>> reporter: for "today," kristen dahlgren, nbc news new york.