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By Mike Capshaw
Special to the Citizen
That was the Chiefand football team theme a year ago and served as the battle cry behind a quick turnaround. The Indians snapped a 23-game losing streak by opening with three straight wins and finishing with a 5-5 record.
After a week postponement to accommodate the baseball team’s run to the state championship, the Indians will host Brandon Faith Baptist for a spring game at 7 p.m. on Friday.
During the winless streak, Chiefland wasn’t a terrible, talent-less football team. The Indians played well at times, sometimes giving much better opponents a run for their money for three or more quarters.
Each time they were close to snapping the skid, however, something would happen that caused everything to unravel. Any sign of prosperity was squashed like a Levy County watermelon at the slightest hint of adversity.
Aaron Richardson, who is heading into his second season as head coach, noticed it shortly after he was hired. It was apparent while watching game film of his future players.
“There was always one play,” Richardson said. “They would be competing hard and playing good and then after that one play, it was a different team the rest of the game.”
CHS football was in a fragile state — mentally. The Indians were playing not to lose, instead of playing to win. That approach magnifies mistakes more than they should be.
Richardson kept watching, trying to figure out why it was happening while hoping to find a solution. Usually, it was either a CHS turnover or penalty or a big play by the opponent that would lead to the Indians’ demise.
Each time one of those plays occurred, players body language would change. Shoulders would slump and heads would be down. At that point, they were essentially defeated, even if there was plenty of time remaining in regulation to mount a comeback.
“By the fifth or sixth game, I could predict what play it was,” Richardson said. “They would play flat and just looked whooped.”
The best teams take bad plays as a small bump in the road, often using the adversity as a reason to battle harder to make up for the miscue. If they cough up a fumble, they basically say, “So what, let’s keep fighting!” They yell and scream and scratch and claw more than ever before, refusing to give up or give in. They find a way to survive and thrive, regardless of the situation.
So Richardson and his staff came up with, “Don’t blink.”
“Something bad is going to happen in football, just as it does in life,” Richardson said. “But you can’t just sit there and think about it. Don’t blink. Or, don’t even think about it.
“If you do, then a bad play leads to a bad series, and a bad series leads to a bad quarter, and a bad quarter leads to a bad game. Just get past it and get on to the next play and to the next quarter.
“It was a tough sell.”
Fortunately, Richardson had two opportunities to sell the newfound strategy before his first regular season game. A year ago, Chiefland fumbled seven times in its spring game against Bronson.
“It was a dogfight with Bronson,” Richardson said. “We got up by like three scores and (Bronson) ended up scoring to come within two TDs. Then, we ended up turning the ball over to them and you could see it in their face. The wind had come out of their sails.”
Richardson called a timeout to reinforce the “Don’t blink” mentality during a team huddle. He told players that he knew they felt bad at that moment, but if they got through it and kept fighting than “there would be no better feeling like it.”
Another opportunity came during the Indians’ preseason scrimmage against Victory Christian. Everything was going according to script as Chiefland built a 35-15 lead with nine minutes remaining in regulation.
Then, it happened. Victory Christian returned a kickoff for a touchdown. After a CHS turnover, the Storm quickly struck again with 47-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 35-27.
Richardson called timeout.
“I could see it in their eyes, again,” Richardson said. “When I got them into that huddle, we did what we had to do to get some kids fired up. We called some out by name and we challenged them.
“I said, ‘Don’t let this fourth quarter get away from you. What you do from here on out is going to define your season.’”
Players left the spirited huddle and responded by marching down the field. An over-the-shoulder catch by James Corbin on a pass from Josh Smith capped the drive and gave Chiefland a 41-27 victory.
In the same preseason matchup a year earlier, Chiefland led Victory Christian 7-6 in the fourth quarter, but ended up losing 14-7.
What a difference a year, and a “Don’t blink” attitude, makes.