Concerns about having to replace all but two starters on each
side of the ball from last season's TSSAA playoffs squad.
Long touchdown after long touchdown
given up by the defense in preseason scrimmages.
An inability to move the football
consistently on offense.
More than 400 rushing yards given up in the season-opening loss at
Greenback, blowing open what had been a one-score margin at halftime.
A Twitter spat between
current and former players in the hours after the Week 0 stumble.
All of the above seems
like a distant memory now for the Sweetwater Wildcats, who now sit at 2-1 after two consecutive
impressive victories — including a 42-12 bludgeoning of Loudon last Friday for their first win
against their longtime rivals from 11 miles north since 2006.
Which also makes Sweetwater 1-0
in District 5-AA, with Loudon now a district member.
The difference? According to interim
head coach Mike Martin, it was simply a matter of the team buying in after the Wildcats' humiliation
at Cooper Field.
"I think our kids were embarrassed after Week (0) — and that’s not taking
anything away from Greenback. Greenback’s a really good football team," Martin said of the game
against the Class 1A powerhouse. "But we didn’t play really well that second half. The coaches were
a mess. I didn’t do a good job at Greenback, and we watched film and told our kids to buy in to
what we’re talking about. Practice hard and prepare. And for the most part, they've had two good
weeks of preparation and practice and they brought it right here, and that’s the bottom
And Sweetwater came out the second week clicking on all cylinders against former
district foe Meigs County, rolling up 630 yards of total offense — 485 of it on the
The coaches wanted Ashaunde Thaxton, who had shown his gamebreaking speed even
before the season started, to become a tougher, every-down runner. Thaxton showed some of that
progress against Meigs and then against Loudon the following week, getting some of those four- and
five-yard gains — while still breaking off the long runs when the opportunity came
That was a result of Thaxton buying in.
"We've just had to come out and play
hard," Thaxton said. "Practice. Get my head in the game and listen to what the coaches tell
It hasn't been all perfect for Sweetwater. The Wildcats have made mistakes, and those
seven penalties against Loudon are bound to be a concern for Martin as he prepares his team for
Austin-East's Homecoming visit to King Berrong Stadium this Friday.
"We've got a long way
to go," Martin said after the game at Loudon. "We made a lot of mistakes, and messed up on some
execution, and defensively missed some tackles."
And the level of competition is also
something to note, with Meigs County coming off a 1-9 season and replacing a whole offensive line
from last season, and Loudon also having to replace people up front and deal with an injury star
receiver Tyler Ferguson suffered against Lenoir City the week before that reduced the Redskins’
offense to one-dimensionality.
But Sweetwater has certainly come a long way in just two
weeks as well. The Wildcats in preseason or Week 0 form probably would not have bounced back
against the Redskins with such focus and killer instinct after giving up a 60-yard scoring run on
the second play of the game.
And speaking of bouncing back, quarterback Andrew Barr, after
tossing an early interception against the Redskins, came back in the second half to throw three
touchdown passes to seal the Wildcats' big win, including a spectacular scramble in the backfield
followed by a heave to a wide-open Thaxton downfield on a third-and 16.
Barr's credit after
the win? His coaches. Barr bought in.
"We have a great coaching staff, I'll tell you what,"
the junior said. "We come in every day and they've got us prepared. Every day at practice we come
out 110 percent. I put that on the coaching staff. We've got the best coaching staff
The coaching staff, for its part, has kept grounded. Martin didn't even know his
team had a 1-0 district record until three minutes left at Loudon. Nor did the explicit thought of
breaking the six-year drought against the Redskins enter his mind.
"From the beginning of the
night I was just focused on us," Martin said.
But if the young Wildcats keep buying in to
what a focused coaching staff has to tell them, the last two games' scripts involving a rough start
followed by a strong finish could extend to a picture of their entire 2013
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