Virtually every high school football coach in the state of Missouri will say all the right things from the same script about this week’s district openers.
It’s a new season, every team gets a fresh start, every team has a 0-0 record and anything is possible.
For coach Anthony Hays and Branson High School, though, there is reason to believe it.
The Pirates limp into the opening round of Class 5 District 6 Tournament play with a 1-8 record and an eight-game losing streak.
Branson’s opponent in the first round of the postseason? Republic.
The same Republic team that the Pirates claimed a 42-29 victory over in Week 1.
So when Hays tells his players there is no reason to believe the Pirates can’t win and extend their season at least another week, it rings true.
“I think really the only approach is to say it’s a new season and we’re undefeated in this new season,” Hays said. “We get the opportunity to have some rematches against some teams – Republic, which we beat, and some other teams that we feel like we had a shot to beat.”
Since that victory over Republic, the season has been a downward spiral for the Pirates. The team has scored 51 total points after putting 42 on the board in the opener, has seen several key players go down with injuries and has had several near-miss games.
Those close calls include a 21-14 loss to Neosho in Week 2, a 14-13 loss to Ozark in Week 3, when top offensive weapon Jay Hill went down with an ankle injury, and a 16-7 loss to Carthage – the top-seeded team in the district and the opponent for the Branson-Republic winner.
It’s a message Hays expects his players to respond to.
“I’ve got a really good group of kids, and we have a lot of young kids,” Hays said. “They are battling, they are fighting, they want to win.
“We just need to have a good week of practice and believe that we can do it.”
One positive development for the Pirates is the prospect of having some injured players able to return for the first playoff game.
Hill, the team’s top running back and one of the area’s rushing leaders, missed several games, including last week against Willard and all but a couple of plays in Week 8 against Carl Junction, has a chance to return from the ankle injury that has hobbled him for most of the season.
And Ethan Stout, a linebacker who suffered a broken hand in Week 5 against Joplin and has been sidelined since, could come back.
“If we can get him back and Jay back, and there’s a good chance we will get some more bodies back, that would be a nice, fresh start for us,” Hays said.
Friday’s regular-season finale started bad and got worse from there for the Pirates, in a 49-0 loss.
Branson turned the ball over four times, one an interception returned for a touchdown, and all leading to scores as the Tigers took a 42-0 lead into halftime.
“You just can’t win when you turn the ball over like that,” Hays said. “There are a lot of little things you can point to, a lot of times it’s the turnover battle. We set them up for four touchdowns, and that’s a huge difference.”
The Pirates finished with only 108 yards of total offense.