Northeastern senior quarterback Shannon Valenti admitted that his team heard all the noise surrounding the Bobcats before the season began.
It would've been pretty hard not to, considering Northeastern was the popular pick to win the York-Adams League Division I title.
When the Bobcats then went on to win their first three games of the season by a combined 136 points, it became really easy for the players to let those preseason expectations and early victories inflate their heads.
As they soon learned, however, it doesn't take much to be knocked from the highest of pedestals.
In Weeks 4 and 5 — the first two weeks of the Y-A Division I schedule — Northeastern was dealt two losses, first to Central York and then to Red Lion. That knocked the Bobcats out of contention for the program's first-ever Division I championship before the team's quest could ever get started.
"It kind of woke us up," Valenti said. "We were too big-headed — all of us. Those two losses woke us up, and ever since then, we've been on a whole different mission."
It's shown on the field, too.
Responding to adversity: Since losing the back-to-back games, the Bobcats have won their last five and enter the District 3 Class 5-A tournament at 8-2 and as the No. 3 seed. It wasn't so much a change in the team's playing style as it was coming to grips about not letting a promising season completely slip away.
"We all sat down and had a talk one day about what we wanted out of this season," senior running back Chris Whack said. "We basically said, 'what makes winning so great and what makes losing suck?' And it's basically because nobody likes to be a loser. And we, as seniors, a big group of us, realized that this is our last season that we have to play for and this could be the last time we play football in our lives."
The message registered and, in the midst of the five-game winning streak, Northeastern's offense is scoring 33.6 points per game, while only allowing 3.8, including three straight shutouts to close the regular season. Much of it had to do with two key components, according to head coach Jon Scepanski.
The first is that, since that mini-losing skid, the Bobcats have gone back to the fundamentals. They realized that they were a good team, but still had to play the games and that sheer talent wasn't going to be enough to win games.
The second was that, after Northeastern fell to 3-2, it went from No. 3 in the 5-A power ratings to No. 9, or also known as the first team out of the eight-team field. With the division title already out of reach, that put an emphasis on every game, making them must-wins because, one loss could've spelled the end for the postseason, as well.
"It almost turned into a playoff situation early for us," Scepanski said. "Obviously, we wanted to have the best season we could and from then on out, we had to go week-by-week and that was our focus."
District 3 foe: Now, awaiting the Bobcats is a run-heavy Cocalico team that went 7-3 during the regular season and tied for the Section 2 championship in the Lancaster-Lebanon League. The Eagles have scored more than 20 points in eight of 10 games, but are also going up against a Northeastern squad that's allowing a Y-A League-best 10.2 points per game. Not to mention, the Bobcats are used to facing run-heavy offenses, having already competed against teams such as Red Lion and Dallastown.
This, however, will be a different test. Cocalico has an offense that is a mid-line veer attack, which will give the Northeastern defense at least three different runners to focus on for each play.
Scepanski knows it'll come down to his team executing its game plan. That is what has gotten the Bobcats to this point and they know that, if they play the way they can, there are few teams who can hang with them.
"We gotta execute what we do," Scepanski said. "Their defense is very good, very sound. They've had a couple shutouts the past couple weeks. So, we gotta execute our game plan and it should be a good game on Friday night."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org