SPENCER — It's hard to grasp the depth of the fall Star Spencer football experienced after 2009.
That year, the Bobcats were the best team in Class 4A — 12-2 record and state champions — and in the two seasons that followed, they barely avoided being Class 3A's worst team. They won one game in each 2010 and 2011, and don't even bother talking about the playoffs. They were not even close.
But finally, with some continuity at the head coaching position once again — the current seniors played for three different coaches their first three years — the Bobcats are showing signs of life again. Maybe enough to get them back in the postseason.
“Our goal from the beginning of the year was to go to the playoffs,” second-year coach James Harding said. “Last year, it was tough, because I was still hiring assistant coaches during the first week of fall camp. We were behind from the start.
“Everyone committed and bought in to what we want to do. They believe now.”
Star Spencer's playoff hopes received a boost Friday night with a 14-13 win over Newcastle in double-overtime. That moved the Bobcats' district record to 2-2, and they sit in fourth place with two district games left. The top-four teams in each district qualify for the postseason.
Star faces Bridge Creek in a nondistrict game this week, and then close the year with Centennial and Heritage Hall.
There are still too many scenarios left to figure out exactly what the Bobcats need to lock up a playoff spot, but they've put themselves in good position.
Friday's win was a big lift, because it showed Harding that his players could keep fighting through a tough situation.
A week earlier, Star stumbled in a game it know it could've won but lost 7-6 to Bethel. Against Newcastle, the game went to overtime tied at 6, and neither team scored in the first OT.
Sophomore tailback Jerome Smith scored in the second overtime, when quarterback Antonio Smith audibled into a different play after seeing the defense. Then Harding decided to put the ball in the hands of his best player, 6-foot, 205-pound senior Kenneth Davis, who plowed in for the game-winning two-point conversion.
“It was a great character victory for us,” Harding said. “We had to look deep inside ourselves and fight back.”
One of the biggest moments of the season came in defeat a few weeks ago, when Kingfisher beat the Bobcats 16-0.
Harding doesn't care for moral victories, but he admits that staying within two scores of Class 3A's best team opened some eyes on the team.
“It was a huge confidence boost,” he said. “And it was an even bigger boost when we watched film and saw that we had a lot of room for improvement. We knew we played well in that game, but we saw that we could play even better.”
Defense has been a big key, following Harding's promotion of assistant coach Matt Gates to defensive coordinator before the season. The Bobcats haven't allowed more than 16 points to a district opponent.
As a team, the Bobcats have started to regain the community pride that was so strong when coach Darrell Hall led Star Spencer to the state title in 2009.
“These kids are aware that they're part of a special community, and they're representing that community on the field,” Harding said. “We just want to keep moving full speed ahead.”