CLARION, Pa. (EYT/D9) — The members of the Central Clarion football team walked somberly to the locker room at halftime, trailing 29-12 at St. Marys on September 24.
The Wildcats were 0-4. They had already faced a season’s-worth of adversity. Scrimmage canceled. New opening-game opponent scheduled at the last minute. Another game canceled. Injuries. Mistakes. A huge early-season hole.
Things looked bleak with a first-year coach, a freshman quarterback, and a whole lot of misfortune.
Something happened, though, during that 20-minute halftime at St. Marys. A pep talk, sure, but the players came to a very important realization.
“It was a pride thing,” said senior Christian Simko. “We had an attitude problem. We would get down, and we would fold. We just decided this game we were gonna make a stand. We were gonna give it everything we had. We knew we could hang with these teams. We had nothing to lose.”
The Wildcats launched a furious rally in the second half against the eventual District 9 Large School Division champs, but ultimately lost 42-39 to the Dutch. Still, the comeback gave Central Clarion something it hadn’t had all season.
Hope and confidence.
Four weeks and four wins later, the Wildcats have turned what was looking like a disastrous season into a success story.
“Anything that could have gone wrong went wrong in that first half of the season,” said Central Clarion coach Dave Eggleton. “They kept coming to practice every day, working hard. They stuck it out.
“Now we have four straight wins,” Eggleton added. “We’re not here by accident. It’s because of the work that they’ve put in and buying in and not giving up. It shows the character we have on this team.”
The development of freshman quarterback Jase Ferguson also helped.
During the four-game losing streak to start the season, Ferguson went through some growing pains. He was just 36-of-79 passing for 520 yards, six touchdowns, and eight interceptions.
In the four victories since – the difference has been striking. Ferguson is 40 of 69 for 810 yards with 11 TDs and just two interceptions.
“I’m just blown away by him,” Eggleton said. “Nothing seems to really fluster him. He has great poise, and he just doesn’t ever panic. It’s just amazing to see that type of maturity out of a freshman.”
The slow start came against some pretty good teams, too.
Slippery Rock, Karns City, Brookville, and St. Marys, the four teams that have defeated Central Clarion, are a combined 28-5.
The Wildcats have only played two teams with a losing record. They host 9-0 Clearfield this Friday.
“I think at the beginning of the season we were just trying to get stuff figured out,” said junior Ryan Hummell. “I think the St. Marys’ game was the turning point for our offense and defense. We realized what we could do.
“I’m really proud of our team,” he added. “It’s way more fun winning.”
Central Clarion hopes to keep winning in the District 9 playoffs.
If things shake out for them, the Wildcats could even host a first-round game.
That’s a long way to come from an 0-4 start and a pile of adversity that would have sunk most high school football teams.
“We’re not going to forget those first four games and what it took to get where we are,” Simko said. “If we see Karns City or St. Marys in the playoffs, I feel like we can make sure what happened against them the first time doesn’t happen again. I think we can shock some people.”
Eggleton said his team is just scratching the surface on what they can do.
“I still don’t feel like we’ve peaked yet,” Eggleton said. “We’re still making lots of mistakes. We were down inside the red zone three times and twice inside the 5 against DuBois and didn’t come away with points. So, we feel like we have a higher ceiling we haven’t hit yet.”