Three months and nine wins ago, Osbourn Park suffered its only loss of the season. The defeat — 49-0 to Hylton — was significant for OP, but for all the wrong reasons: before or after, no team scored more than two touchdowns on the Yellow Jacket defense and, before or after, no team had kept the Yellow Jackets out of the end zone for a full game.
But three months and nine wins, especially the nine wins, do wonders for a team’s confidence. OP bounced back after the Hylton loss, beating Woodbridge and every team since.
Last Friday, OP opened the Division 6, Northwest Region playoffs with a win over Franklin County. In the playoff bracket, that leads to a rematch of Week 2, with much more on the line. OP travels to Hylton this Friday night to decide the Northwest Region’s champion and who moves onto states.
The OP team that takes the field this Friday will be different — not in terms of personnel or gameplans or personalities — but in terms of experience and confidence.
“I hope it’s different, I hope we’ve improved. I think we have,” said OP head coach Brian Beaty. “Maybe in that big of a game that early in the season, maybe we weren’t ready for it.”
Since then, Beaty added, he’s seen his team mature as football players and as people, and he thinks they’ll be ready come Friday night.
‘Then’ seems like a long way back.
Heading into the season, running back Roland Hilliard was the lone bankable name on the Jackets’ roster. But a season later, many of Hilliard’s teammates have made their own way: linemen Clark Lanzendorf and Zak Stair, as one of the area’s top line tandems; quarterback Doug Suliga, a solid runner and effective passer; wideout Andrew Dykstra, a dependable, athletic receiver; and Richard Terrell, a slim but speedy defensive end who created chaos on opponents’ gameplans.
While many have emerged throughout the season, a sizable hurdle remains. Hylton, unlike OP, is accustomed to playing for regional titles.
For that reason, Beaty hasn’t discussed the external factors of Friday’s game — what the crowd will be like and everything aside from what happens on the field.
“They have a history. They’ve been to the big game,” said Beaty. “They can score, they’ve got speed and they’re coached well. They’ve got everything in place … All of that combined is a concern with us. But we can only worry about us.
“I don’t want to put added pressure on the kids. I want them to go out and enjoy themselves. There aren’t too many teams still playing.”
Also, Beaty and the Yellow Jackets aren’t worrying about the game’s implications.
“We didn’t want to change anything. If we work hard, it’ll all take care of itself,” said Beaty. “This is a big game, because it’s our next game. It’s no bigger than any of the others. We want to keep this in perspective, but we want to work hard.”
OP enters the game with few serious injuries. There are the standard bruises that accompany 11 games of football, but no injuries of concern to Beaty.
“We’ve got some bumps and bruises, but we’re pleased for this late in the season,” said Beaty. “We’re very fortunate that we didn’t have any major injuries.”