The scene would never escape them, but the players on the Attica-Argonia football team had pushed it to the back of their minds.
Until this week, when it became official Attica-Argonia would meet Victoria in the 8-Man Division II championship game Saturday in Newton.
“I’ll never forget seeing them all cheering and holding that big trophy, while we were over there with tears in our eyes,” Attica-Argonia senior Devon Newbury said. “That is what has been motivating us all season and now I think we’re all ready to return the favor.”
The last time these two sides met, Victoria made Attica-Argonia question everything it had accomplished in an undefeated season that was devastated by a 52-8 loss in last season’s championship game.
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The players have found inspiration from the last chapter of Attica’s program, when it played in back-to-back championship games. After losing to Northern Valley in 1987, Attica won the rematch in 1988.
Lance Vandeveer, one of the team’s co-coaches, also recalled a similar occurrence when he played in high school.
“I just know that when we came back and won,” Vandeveer said, “it was sweet revenge.”
But experiencing that will take much more than showing up with a renewed spirit, especially against an opponent that physically dominated the game last time.
Attica-Argonia, which returned mostly the same core this season, remembers what it felt like being manhandled like that and Vandeveer, the team’s defensive coordinator, will tell you it wasn’t a coincidence that this season the defense lowered its average points allowed by nearly three touchdowns to just more than six points per game.
“Victoria is going to line up in the Power-I and slam it down your throat until you can stop it,” Vandeveer said. “We’ve stressed all season long that our kids have to meet those lead blocks and not dance around them. We can’t be afraid to hit someone.”
While quarterback Alec McDaniel and Newbury, the team’s primary tailback, for over 50 rushing touchdowns and led Attica-Argonia to a 9.2-yard average, Victoria’s defense enters the game allowing a little more than two yards per carry.
This time Attica-Argonia feels like it has improved its strength and speed to combat the brute strength that Victoria leveraged for the dominant victory. Raising the stakes is the fact that neither side has lost since the last year’s title game.
“We invite that,” Newbury said. “We’re going to be ready for it this time around.”
After experiencing success the first time in years last season, the team this season has handled success in a more business-like fashion. They still celebrate the wins, but now they come with an expectation.
That was evident in last week’s 52-0 victory over Axtell in the semifinals, as Attica-Argonia shut down an offense averaging north of 40 points and held them to under 50 yards of total offense.
And after they were done with their demolition, the players eagerly searched social media hoping to see Victoria had also taken care of business.
This is the game they wanted, but more importantly, the opponent they wanted to prove themselves against.
“They’re the best right now and they’re the champs,” said co-coach Luke Greenwood. “They’ve been the best in this class for 24 games now, so if we want to be the best then we’ve got to beat the best. We wanted another shot at Victoria and now we got it.”