During final two weeks, Spring Grove football team will fight for its playoff life
Throughout the course of a season, goals and aspirations can change for teams.
That is certainly the case for the Spring Grove High School football team, which set its sights on winning a York-Adams League Division I title at the beginning of the year. Those aspirations may have seemed lofty to almost anybody outside of the Rockets' program, especially considering that just a year ago, this was a team that went 3-7 overall. On top of that, Spring Grove introduced an entirely new coaching staff for 2015, led by Head Coach Kyle Sprenkle. Then, when you factor in that about half the teams in the eight-team division were viewed as legitimate title contenders going into the season, a league crown just didn't seem in the cards for the Rockets.
However, while Spring Grove may no longer be in contention to win the division, it's certainly opened some eyes around the league. The Rockets sit at 4-4 overall and 3-2 in Division I — not quite good enough to win the division, but still good enough to keep the team dreaming of a district playoff berth. That's become the new goal for the resurgent program.
"Obviously, our original goal coming into the season was to win a division championship," Sprenkle said. "But this is obviously another goal of ours, to qualify for the district team tournament. We're not going to pay a lot of attention to it because we still have two games to play and that's what's most important to us."
Tough road ahead: Spring Grove is ranked 14th in the most recent District 3-AAA power rating. There isn't much room for error for a team that is just a couple spots above the 16-team cut line for the district tournament. Any slip up could mean the Rockets' season ends after 10 weeks, rather than extending it beyond that.
"Ups and downs have pretty much defined us so far this season," junior quarterback Jake Messersmith said. "So, we gotta get out of this rut and pick ourselves back up."
Inconsistent year: Breaking down Spring Grove's schedule into two equal halves, the team isn't necessarily in a rut. The first four games were without a doubt the team's down period, going 1-3 to begin the season. Over the past four weeks, the Rockets have gone 3-1, including a three-game winning streak that was snapped last Friday night against Northeastern. That's likely the rut that Messersmith was referring to — a 30-0 home loss to the Bobcats.
Going in, Spring Grove was a definite underdog vs. Northeastern, but the way the game played out was less than encouraging for a team fighting for its playoff life. Now, to close out the year, the Rockets still have to face a tough Red Lion squad this Friday and then close with South Western.
"If we take care of business with these last two games, then the districts will take care of themselves," Sprenkle said.
Playoff history: The Rockets' district history isn't extensive, but the majority of it has been more recent. Spring Grove has only played nine district tournament games in the program's history, with the first appearance coming in 1983. Eight of those appearances have come since the start of the new millennium, including five in the last seven seasons.
Despite having a down year in 2014 (3-7 overall), many of the seniors on this year's team were on the 2013 team that won seven games in the regular season and qualified for the district tournament. It was just a matter of changing the mentality of the team from last year to this year and making sure the players believed that they could do something great.
"I'll give a lot of credit to our kids," Sprenkle said. "We have a large group of seniors on this team who have taken charge of this team and were tired of losing. They wanted to have a different season and they bought in quick and they've been leading this team to be more successful this year."
What's at stake: Realistically, one win in any of the Rockets' final two games should be enough to secure a spot in the District 3-AAA playoffs, but, even that is too risky. Two wins will definitely do the trick. However, neither will come easy.
The players at Spring Grove understand that the team improved this season, but a season without a playoff appearance will be another year of unfulfilled goals.
A division title is no longer in the cards for Spring Grove, but a playoff berth is. However, it won't come easy.
"(Red Lion) is a very quality team and they're balanced on both sides of the ball," Sprenkle said. "Our guys gotta prepare hard this week, and if they come out and perform to their ability, we should have a successful night."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter @P_Strohecker