The past two seasons have ended in a similar fashion for Hosanna Christian — a season-ending loss to the eventual state champs, Dufur.
Both games even yielded similar results. A 46-0 loss a season ago in the Class 1A semifinals, and a 60-18 loss in the 2017 state title game.
“We’ve gone into Dufur both times unprepared,” said junior Christian Coleman. “This year, when we go to play a good playoff team, we are going to be prepared.”
What has become clear for the Lions as they held their final fully-padded practice Tuesday in preparation for Thursday’s Lowell Jamboree, is that to be the final team standing at the end of the season, improvements need to be made from the top down.
“We had to make a decision and the decision started this summer in the weight room,” said head coach Jim Johnston. “If we kept finding ourselves in the semifinals and the finals, do we want the outcome to be what it’s been? I think this group, as coaches, we needed to get better.”
As Hosanna Christian, winners of 20 games spanning the past two seasons, stares down the start of a fresh season, it’s clear that the team has been up for the challenge to clear that final hurdle.
“There is a different feel this year,” said senior Will Maupin. “We feel stronger this year than year and the year before. We trust everyone on the team, there’s no real division, we are smaller but we are really getting after it”
“I think we have the right things to get there,” the head coach echoed. “But the little things — your strength and conditioning, your coaching — that’s what’s going to get us past Nov. 30th.”
The Lions will need to replace all-state lineman Nick Morris, as well as last year’s starting quarterback, Jacob Moore. Returning is a pair of capable backs in Mickey Sanches and Coleman. As well as quarterback Spencer Crawford, a former backup who has returned for his senior season.
“I just think it’s not about one player, we don’t even have a captain, it’s about what we are going to do together. It’s about what we can do together. I think that’s the key,” Johnston said.
Part of that key will be to utilize the athleticism, for a team that wants to control the line of scrimmage, having a team without a player weighing over 200 pounds, might prove challenging.
As Johnston pointed out, having a beefy line isn’t a necessity in the wide-open 8-man football, noting that the recent Dufur dynasty had a line that averaged less than 200 pounds.
“We want to control the ball, run the football, we just need to block better,” Johnston said. “Just because you’re smaller doesn’t mean you can’t block. We’ve put in a new blocking scheme that we think fits what we do ... We just believe that we are athletic upfront, we can do somethings upfront that we haven’t been able to do in a while. We are excited and our backs don’t need many blocks.
Hosanna Christian will play twice in Thursday’s Lowell Jamboree. The Lions first game of the season will be Friday, Sept. 6 when they host Virginia City (NV) at 6 p.m.