Varsity Kansas

Momentum can carry teams a long way

In Andover Central's first two football games, the Jaguars committed crucial errors during their opponents' late-game drives.

Against Goddard in the opener, it was a pass interference call. Against Salina Central last week, the defense gave up a key screen play.

"A year ago, they would have hung onto that bad play for several plays," Andover Central coach Tom Audley said. "This year we've done a great job of moving on to the next play, whether it was good or bad."

The Jaguars ended opponents' last-minute drives with interceptions in both games and are 2-0, one season after opening 0-3. They play visiting McPherson (2-0, No. 3 in Class 5A) tonight.

Andover Central isn't the only team experiencing a reversal of fortune.

Heights opened 2009 with two losses but is undefeated this year and ranked third in Class 6A. East, 1-4 to start last season, is 2-0. Winfield was 0-3 but is now 2-0. Nickerson was 0-6 but is 1-1 after a tough loss to Abilene.

And other teams unaccustomed to losing are experiencing just that.

Smith Center, which has the state's longest winning streak at 79, had that streak ended in the Class 2-1A title game in November. The Redmen lost last week to Phillipsburg, their second loss in three games.

Derby and Northwest are 0-2.

Last season was a humbling experience for Andover Central.

"We've gotten that bad taste out of our mouth," Audley said."... The whole attitude is real positive. It's kind of a can-do type attitude instead of what's going to happen to us next."

Winning has a way of erasing pain. The confidence gained from winning often multiplies, just as the loss of confidence skyrockets with losses.

"It's a great advantage," East coach Brian Byers said of starting 2-0. "The kids are excited to come to practice. They're excited to get better. They have confidence. They're not questioning themselves, are we this, are we that. It makes a big difference."

For East senior Jonathan Nelson, whose team plays host to Northwest at Heights tonight, it's a welcome change.

"It feels like right now we're getting more cooperation from the players. We're actually coming in and feeling more like a group instead of having different sections inside the team," he said. "Nowadays you actually want to come out and practice and work to win games."

The difference in Northwest and East could be great, depending on how each handles their respective records.

East is loaded with confidence.

"I think it's almost possible to beat anybody," Nelson said. "We have that mentality that we are pretty good."

Northwest lost to Kapaun Mount Carmel and Dodge City, two strong teams. Instead of rolling over, coach Weston Schartz has seen his team work harder.

Northwest had scheduled an off day on Saturday, but when Schartz changed his mind, every varsity player was there.

"They inspired me," Schartz said. "They realize that we have had a few obstacles to overcome. We have a lot of new kids out there, and it will happen."

Just like Schartz, Audley and Byers are emphasizing daily improvements.

Audley wants his offensive line to continue its stellar play and open holes for junior running back Alex Bontz. For Byers, minimizing mistakes is key for the Aces.

"We have to continue to get better on both sides of the football and play hard and play full speed every play of the game," Byers said."... We worry about that more than who we're playing."

East and Andover Central will face their most formidable opponents tonight. Count on their coaches using that as motivation.

"Coach gave a really inspiring speech (last week), and it really pumped us up," Bontz said. "He was telling us, these guys have a huge legacy as a 5A school. No matter what, he knows we're a good football team and we can compete with anybody and we have the talent."

It was a goose-bump inducing speech, and it worked.