By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
Warner got back to the playoffs last season and its stay was short.
The Eagles lost to eventual Class A state champion Wayne 54-6, the result of getting their district’s final and fourth-place seed.
That alone gave them the drive to get to where they are now, 10-0 and representing District A-8 as the top seed when it meets the Yale Bulldogs (6-4) Friday night in Warner.
“When we made it a goal to be the district champion, we did it for that very reason. You get the more favorable matchup when you play the bottom seed,” said Warner coach Chris McMullen.
“Our kids have prepared hard all year to get that. But they’re very aware that we’re in a different place now where every week you win you keep playing and if you don’t, you check your gear in. And to keep playing you have to have attention to detail and focus regardless of who you play.”
It’s been a process of building that focus all year for a team that hasn’t been used to winning big — it hasn’t done so in a decade. Warner’s 10-0 mark is the first of that kind since 1998, the date of its last playoff win. Its 437 points is second in school history behind the 452 in 1993.
“We’ve constantly preached about doing the little things, going the extra mile, outplaying our opponent on every play but the kids have to see the results of that effort paying off,” he said. “They’ve now developed the mindset that they expect to go out and win.”
Case in point was against Afton in week 9, with district not quite sealed and the Eagles trailing 20-8 after failing to grab an onside kick and giving up a score on the ensuing play.
Using the 29 sweep or “buck sweep” as the Eagles call it, Justin Wright went 66 yards to make it 20-16. Back came Afton on a drive across midfield and on a fourth down corner blitz, Kyle Taylor made the stop. The ball went to the Eagles and they drove for the go-ahead TD.
“We came back and they come right down the field against us. All along there was no panic. Confident teams won’t do that,” McMullen said.
Added Wright: “As soon as they scored on us after the onside kick, I knew we had to go back and score right then. We did. Fact was, we came out laid back and at halftime we sat down and refocused. They caught a break right off but we came back. We didn’t lose composure.”
That buck sweep is something Bulldogs coach Craig Ellis is concerned about.
“They run that well and you also have to control the fullback on their trap play,” he said. “This is a pretty physical team. Teams from our district like Morrison or Kiefer might be more physical in a few positions but they’re still pretty physical.”
Both teams operate out of a wing-T base on offense, although McMullen noted that Yale’s ability to pass out of it concerns him a little bit.
“They’ll throw it on first down and second and short enough to keep you off-balance,” he said. “When you play a team that loads up on the option you have to be assignment sound. Our guys have to read the keys for the dive, the quarterback key and the pitch.
“Our kids have done a good job against teams who run this. We’re just going to have to be aware of the tendency to pass when you don’t normally expect teams to pass.”