By BRYAN URBACH
Grapeland’s and Elkhart’s seasons are complete opposites of each other.
One team (Elkhart) is coming into the matchup with a 2-1 record winning its first two games and losing its third, while the other team (Grapeland) started the season with two losses and is now on a one-game winning streak.
Last season when these two teams met, there wasn’t much to offer as far as a battle to the finish goes. Elkhart ran away with the game, winning 49-2 in the game at Grapeland.
This year, with both teams coming off different paths, the game will be one to watch. Grapeland coach Shawn Brown, while new to the area, said he knows what’s at stake in the Dogwood Circle rivalry match.
“It’s a big game, just like all of the rest of them,” Brown said. “Every game we play is our biggest rivalry, and that’s the mentality that we’re trying to put in here. With Elkhart being that close to us, obviously adds to it, but again, it’s a football game just like the rest of them. We’re going to try to win.”
Grapeland is coming off its first win of the season against Lovelady last week, winning 35-28. After scoring only 16 points combined in their first two games, the Sandies were able to double that amount, and Brown said it helped give his team the boost that it needed for the upcoming game.
“Obviously, when you get any type of a win or success, the kids build on that,” Brown said. “The hardest thing is trying to come back from a loss. Having that win last week alleviates a little bit of that stress from us. It’s easier for a 15- to 18-year-old to see that, ‘Hey, yeah. My work is starting to pay off.’”
For Elkhart, last week’s matchup against Centerville didn’t quite go the way that Elks’ coach Sam Wells had hoped. He said this week the team is looking to key in on those chances that slipped away that it had last week.
“Last week, we left a lot of points off the board that we had opportunities to score,” Wells said. “We had some drives going that stalled out. Hopefully, it’s just a big learning experience for us and that’s what the non-district games are for — to get ready for the district games. Centerville was an extremely good team, but we just have to learn to take advantage of the opportunities when they’re given to us. We weren’t able to do that last week, and hopefully we can fix that for this week.”
Brown said even though it’s his first season with the Sandies, he has definitely learned a lot from them, and he said he is proud of the team’s performance so far. After going 0-2 to start the season, the Sandies are looking to keep the winning streak alive, and to do that, Brown said the group has to keep playing as one team, as one entity.
“I think our entire team has done well, and I laugh, because that “WEfense” comment really comes into play again,” Brown said. “I was talking about being able to do this and that on offense and defense, and one of the kids came up to me and told me that it’s the same kids on offense and defense, so that’s where we came up with the “WEfense.” Those kids have grasped the team concept, and they’ve run with it. For kids to have the idea that the team as a unit is bigger and stronger than anyone as an individual, that’s the biggest lesson that we can teach them.”
Coming into a rivalry and playing against a new coach with a new system can be something that is troublesome to an existing coach, but Wells said he looks forward to the opportunity. Grapeland is using a different style of defense that Elkhart has yet to face, and Wells said Elkhart has that to deal with, but he said the team is ready for anything Grapeland throws at it.
“I think we’re in the same situation that they were in last season with the new coach coming in,” Wells said. “It’s a little bit different, but it’s just another week of preparation for us. They have a lot of options on offense, and they run out of the shotgun formation a lot. Defensively, they’re in a 3-3 Stack, and they like to blitz a lot. That’s definitely a challenge for us because we haven’t seen that all that much. It’ll be something different.”
Wells, who joined Elkhart last season, said he knows what it’s like to be in a match against a rival and having never played it before. As with any new coach, there is always chatter about how well a coach can do at the beginning of the season, for it is the mold for what the rest of the season will turn out to be.
Brown said he thinks he’s in the right place. He said he is coaching football for a reason. That reason? So he doesn’t have to work again.
“I thoroughly enjoy it, and I’m going to keep thoroughly enjoying it,” Brown said. “It’s kind of like that old thing, ‘A day spent fishing and not catching any fish is better than a day at work.’ That’s how I feel. I don’t consider this work. I consider it something that I love to do. And I know what it’s like to have to work. My dad worked construction, and I have worked construction. What I do is not work. I get a chance to be around kids, and that’s what I want to do. I love it here.”