The first step in regaining confidence was Friday's 41-3 thrashing of West Noble as the Knights notched victory No. 1 in 2013.
“It was pretty exciting to see (the players) smiling after a Friday night game and Saturday morning film, it was long overdue,” Bishop Luers coach Kyle Lindsay said. “We should have gotten that (first) win earlier in the season. But we kept battling and kept working hard and had a positive attitude.”
Lindsay mentioned senior Nic Morken as one of the leaders who kept the program together as week after week went without a victory during the regular season. Without strong leadership, a struggling team can completely cash it in for the rest of the year, but Morken was among those who kept morale up.
“He would step on some kids' toes when need be, and give positive feedback when kids needed to see a leader,” Lindsay said. “Coaches can do it, but it is different when someone of their age does it. Nic has done a really great job keeping everyone focused.”
The first thing Lindsay did last week was put “0-0” up in plain sight for everyone to see. All coaches preach that the postseason is separate from the regular season, but for Bishop Luers, it was also a chance at redemption.
“Truthfully, it is not often we (as a program) talk about the postseason in the middle of the regular season,” Lindsay said. “But we had to remind the kids to get better every week so we could be the best tournament team we can be.”
With a victory now in their pockets, the Knights can turn their attention to Friday's opponent in Heritage, and try to earn the program's 26th consecutive playoff victory.After the Saints' 47-30 loss to Cathedral on Oct. 4, coach Chris Svarczkopf and his staff got together to make a decision.
“We decided that we needed to get better,” Svarczkopf said. “The fundamentals were not where we needed them to be.”
The debate was simple. For players who saw action on both offense and defense, which side of the ball were they most invaluable?
Once the decision was made, two-way players were dramatically downsized, allowing players to put all practice and preparation time into one position.
One of those players was junior Marcus Stepp. One of the more sure-handed receivers the Saints have, the decision was made to limit Stepp to linebacker.
“Marcus can help you in a lot of ways, he is a really good junior football player,” Svarczkopf said. “But we really needed a linebacker. Marcus has played very well there and has two interceptions now there.”
The change in tactics has paid dividends, with Bishop Dwenger seemingly fresher on the field, particularly on defense as the Saints have allowed just five points over the last two weeks.
“When you only have a certain amount of minutes in a day, it is difficult to get everything covered,” Svarczkopf said. “Those were hard decisions to make … but it has made a big difference.”The Braves may have entered Friday's game with six-win Whitko with not as many victories as the Wildcats, but that did not mean that coach Larry Getts' team was not confident.
“Our schedule prepared us,” Getts said. “Our kids took some knocks against bigger and better schools. Going in we were well prepared, we knew once we looked at whom Whitko played and who we played, we had some advantages.”
Whitko was co-champion of the Three Rivers Conference but played a schedule ranked No. 204 in the state according to the Sagarin Ratings.
Meanwhile, Bellmont took its lumps late in the season against Carroll, New Haven and East Noble while playing the No. 72 schedule in the state.
The Braves scored on their first three possessions Friday in a 35-13 victory.
“Whitko was a physical team, but the kids came out and stole any of confidence they'd have from them,” Getts said.
Bellmont lost three of its final four regular-season games against some of the NHC's best but came out of it virtually unscathed in terms of long-term injuries.
“It is an advantage if you survive it,” said Getts when asked about the late-season juggernaut of games. “We were not too beaten up and it prepared us. It is a tribute to the kids to come back and play.”* Bishop Dwenger's five points allowed over the past two games is the best defensive performance over multiple games by the Saints since surrendering three points over three games in September 2010.
* Bishop Luers' last postseason loss was a 21-14 defeat in sectionals to Jimtown in 2008.
* Leo has held eight of its 10 opponents this season to seven points or less.