FINDLAY - The season was only one game old, and already the Findlay football team was facing a crisis.
The Trojans had allowed St. John's Jesuit to score 21 points in the final 12:44 of a season-opening 42-38 loss. Staring Findlay in the face was a daunting schedule that featured four straight non-conference games against teams with playoff aspirations.
"It was the worst backs-against-the-wall situation I can think of," coach Cliff Hite said. "We started off 0-5 last year, and we lost three games by six points. We were thinking, 'Oh my gosh, this could happen again.'
"I thought it might be insurmountable to overcome that situation."
It wasn't, though. In fact, the Trojans have been perfect ever since, winning those four tough non-league contests as well as their first three Greater Buckeye Conference games. They enter tonight's game against Sandusky with a 7-1 record.
But the route from 0-1 to 7-1 wasn't easy. The first thing that needed to be fixed was the team's attitude.
"We had to do a 180 - we could have gone downhill from there, or we could have improved and done everything we've done now," senior free safety/wide receiver Ryan Sottoway said. "Coming off that loss, we wanted to turn things around and get things into gear."
The Trojans rebounded from the loss to St. John's by beating Dublin Coffman 14-12, marking the first time Findlay had beaten the Shamrocks after nine straight losses.
"We celebrated after that game like we had won a league championship or a state playoff game," Hite said. "It was the biggest monkey off this program's back that anybody can remember. We had almost beaten them several times, but we had never beaten them [before this year]."
But the Trojans weren't finished: They won at Upper Arlington, then whacked state-ranked Cincinnati Moeller 35-17.
"After we beat Dublin, we were pretty pumped about the season," quarterback Chris Schneider said. "I think some people were shocked after we beat Moeller - not because we beat them, but because of the way we beat them. I don't think we had one screw-up in that game."
One week later the Trojans used a fake punt to take Worthington Kilbourne into overtime on the Wolves' home field, then went for two in the first overtime period and claimed a 42-41 victory.
Hite said much of the credit for the Trojans' comeback goes to the team itself.
"We didn't know if this group of kids would have the character to bounce back and do it, but they did," Hite said. "You always hope that a team will overcome that stuff, but you never know. Last year we didn't. But this team wasn't going to lose."
The team's key players said last year's 0-5 record against a similar schedule helped motivate this year's squad.
"The 0-5 thing didn't make much sense to me - I didn't think we should have gone 0-5," senior lineman Chris Condeni said. "We never got killed in any of those games. But we didn't think about going 0-5 this season. Most people thought the best we could do was 3-2 against that schedule, but we were 4-1."
Schneider said the Trojans handled their early adversity better this season.
"The team attitude is much better than last year, even though we came back from 0-5 to win the league last year," Schneider said. "We have such great leaders on this team to get us pumped up for each week. Even though we have only 13 seniors, they get the job done."
Sottoway said it was easy to motivate this year's team based on last year's failure.
"I don't know if there was a lesson learned, but those of us who played last year knew what it was like to lose those five games," he said. "You never want to lose a game. After we lost to St. John's, we had a decision: lose all of our non-conference games and do an 0-5 season, or turn things around and start winning.
"And winning feels so much better. Why would you want to lose?"
Findlay hasn't, and coaches and players agree they'd like to have a chance to make amends for that season-opening loss by facing the Titans in the state playoffs.
"We've talked about St. John's every single week," Hite said. "We ask our players, 'Would you like to play them again? If so, then win Friday night. Get yourself into a position where you're in the playoffs and maybe you can play them again.'
"If they beat us, then they're the better team. If we beat them, then we get to play again."
Then again, the Trojans might not have had the success they've enjoyed without that early-season adversity.
"If we would have won that game, maybe we wouldn't be 7-1 right now," Condeni said. "Maybe that worked out for the best. But I think it might be nicer to be 8-0 right now."
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