SWANTON A number of local teams won their first football game of the season last weekend. But few of those victories were as big as the one claimed by Swanton.
That s because the Bulldogs 33-24 win over Lake broke a 20-game losing streak. It was the program s first victory since the final game of the 2003 season.
It felt great to finally win a game after two years of losing it was an amazing feeling, senior Josh DoMoe said.
The recent lack of success at Swanton has been a disappointment for a program that spent many years in the upper division of the Northwest Ohio Athletic League. The Bulldogs have won or shared five league titles, its most recent coming in 1995 when the Bulldogs also earned a berth in the state playoffs.
But in the last four years the team has won a total of two league games, including back-to-back winless seasons heading into this year.
I don t know that there s one thing that I could point to and say that was the deciding factor [in the program s recent struggles], Swanton coach Steve Brehmer said. I think in the NWOAL you have to be able to run the football in order to be able to compete, and I think we got away from trying to do that.
And our financial problems hurt us, too. We had kids who didn t know if they would be able to play, and then we went to play to participate and that can be a burden on families.
The first step toward success, according to Brehmer, was rebuilding the number of players in the program. In his first season just 37 players were in the program and 20 of them were freshman.
The next step was rebuilding pride in the program. Brehmer, a long time Swanton assistant, has a staff filled with former players and coaches who serve as assistants and reminders of the program s history.
They understand how hard we practiced back then, Brehmer said of his assistants. They understand what things we did to be successful. Our kids have seen film of these guys having success, so they know that when these guys talk, they ve been there and they know what it s about.
But the most important step toward stopping the losing was changing attitudes.
The attitude [of the team] the last couple of years? Some days it was there, and some days it wasn t, senior Chris Goin said. But you can t take a break on it.
DoMoe agreed, adding, We were trying to build a team that wasn t yelling at one another we want it so that we have each other s backs. The last couple years it was tough because guys would blame everybody else.
This year it s a whole lot different. If somebody makes a mistake, you give them a slap on the head and say, It s all right. We ll get them the next play.
The acid test came last Friday against Lake, and senior Jordan Stinson noticed a difference even before that game began.
Even before the game, when I saw we were pumped up and they came out kind of flat [I thought we could win], he said. I ve never heard our team that excited, that loud, that pumped to play football.
But Swanton s resolve was tested when the team fell behind 18-6 at the half and 24-13 midway through the third quarter.
Last year we would have been, Uh oh, here we go again, Stinson said. This year, we kept on each other and stayed positive. We re brothers out here: we re a family. We just kept doing what we had to do, and we got it done.
Brehmer said the game also was a test of the team s new-found depth, since the number of participants has grown into the mid-50s.
Last Friday we had a couple of kids we didn t feel were playing up to their potential, so we replaced them with other kids who came in and did a fantastic job, Brehmer said. I haven t had that luxury the past two years.
The combination of perseverance and depth paid off as the Bulldogs scored the game s final 20 points to claim a 33-24 victory.
There were four or five points where we could have thrown in the towel, and in the past we would have done that, Brehmer said. We ve been harping to these kids that bad things would happen, and the key was how they reacted to the bad things. And their reaction was terrific.
I think they grew and finally realized what it takes to win football games.
While it s only one victory in a 10-game season, the hope in Swanton is that the win was more than just a win: perhaps it will wake up a program that had fallen on hard times in recent seasons.
Everyone was fired up [after the win] the whole stands rushed the field, Goin said. At the Corn Festival, everyone was coming up and saying, Good game, good game. And we hadn t heard that in a long time.
Contact John Wagner at: email@example.com or 419-724-6481.