It's even harder to do when you're going against a team trying to avoid starting the season 0-3.
The Northern Lebanon football team found that out the hard way with a 34-13 loss to the Hamburg Hawks on Friday night. The Vikings (2-1) simply got outplayed by the now 1-2 Hawks.
Hamburg opened the season with losses to Lebanon county foes Elco (44-6) and Annville-Cleona (25-20) but came prepared for the Vikings, outgaining them 314-168 by using a lot of sweeps and counter plays on the ground.
"We practiced against it (Hamburg's sweep and counter offense)," coach Roy Wall said. "I mean it's not like we haven't seen it before. They executed it well."
The Hawks got out of the gate quickly, building a 7-0 lead on their first drive by mixing it up with some runs up the middle by Joseph Raffensperger and sweeps by Montay Berger. Berger ultimately finished off the drive with a 25-yard burst off the left side.
The Vikings responded with a solid drive that went inside the Hawk 30-yard line before it stalled out and ended with a fumble on fourth down.
On the Hawks' ensuing drive they again mixed Raffensperger and Berger, converting three third downs on their way to another score, this one a 13-yard gallop that included lots of broken tackles by Berger. It was 14-0 after the second of four extra points by Tyler Seidel.
A big kickoff return by Viking sophomore Mason Yost to the Hawk 30 gave Northern Lebanon life, but just five plays later, it turned the ball over on downs again at the 19-yard line still early in the second quarter.
On the ensuing drive, the Hawks took the life seemingly out of the Vikings with a quick-hitting drive that saw Berger throw a pass off a sweep to Cody Miller in the end zone that was just outside of Viking defender Tito Rivera's reach, making it 21-0. The drive was aided by a huge 58-yard completion from Nicholas Kuhn to Miller on third down.
"They came out and took it to us," said Wall of the first-half hole. "They had a well-played game. They set the tone in the first half and we got ourselves into a deep hole."
Opening the second half with a 21-0 deficit, the Vikings needed to score, and they did just that. Sophomore quarterback Isaac Ray and junior running back Derek DiAngelis led the way with the option attack, taking the ball down inside the Hawk 10-yard line after converting a fourth down.
The drive finished off when Ray hit a diving Yost on a slant route in the end zone in front of Berger to make it 21-6 after a failed two-point attempt.
The Viking defense then stepped up, DiAngelis in particular, with a huge three-and-out. Northern Lebanon did, however, miss out on a fantastic opportunity on the punt when the snap went over the punter's head, but he somehow scooped up the ball and just tossed it to the ground for an incompletion instead of getting tackled 25 yards behind where the snap came from.
Northern Lebanon could not capitalize on the mistake as a holding call pushed them back near midfield, and on fourth down its punt was blocked and picked up - you guessed it - 25-yards downfield.
That block led to another Hawk score in which they again converted a fourth-down attempt with Berger plunging in from three yards out.
"We had an opportunity in the second half where we scored and got the turnover," said Wall of the turning point of the game. "We thought we could get it down to a one-score game and we didn't score then. Then we kept making mistakes."
Berger, a 150-pound junior, did it all for the Hawks, throwing and completing one pass for 13 yards and a touchdown, running for 124 yards on 16 carries and catching three balls for 28 yards while also playing tight coverage on defense. He also had a hand in all five of Hamburg's touchdowns, rushing in from 25, 13, 3 and 10 yards while also throwing for a touchdown from 13 yards.
"They've gotten better every week and we sorta didn't improve between weeks 2 and 3 and we really needed to," Wall said. "Now we're into our section play, so we're really starting from zero and zero."
The Vikings got the final score of the night on another Ray-to-Yost hook-up, this one from eight yards away on a beautiful fade in the right corner of the end zone to make the final deficit 34-13 after Michael Hauck kicked the extra point.
"The first two games we were not spectacular in any of the three phases - offense, defense, kicking game - but we were solid in all of them," said Wall reflecting on the season to date. "Today we were solid in none of them. We just didn't play in any phase of the game and kept making mistakes and giving Hamburg opportunities and they took it to us. They definitely outplayed us and outcoached us too.
"With the sweep we thought we had a scheme for it that was pretty effective, but they were able to continue to execute their offense."
"They have to learn what it's like to lose," said Wall on the learning experience a loss is for a young team. "But they have to learn that they have to bring their 'A' game every single week. We haven't brought out our 'A' game since week 1. We're just not good enough to show up and play. We have to play with passion and with heart. The talent is there we just have to play with some more emotion."
HAMBURG 34, NORTHERN LEBANON 13
Hamburg 7-21-7-0 - 34
N. Lebanon 0-0--60 - 13
H - Montay Berger 25 run (Tyler Seidel kick)
H - Berger 13 run (Seidel kick)
H - Cody Miller pass from Montay Berger (Seidel kick)
NL - Mason Yost 9 pass from Isaac Ray (run failed)
H - Berger 3 run (Seidel kick)
H - Berger 10 run (kick failed)
NL - Yost 8 pass from Ray (Hauck kick)
H - NL
First downs 15 - 10
Rushes-yards 49-215 - 34-78
Passing 5-7-0 - 7-16-0
Passing yards 99 - 90
Total yards 314 - 168
Punts 0 - 2-24.5
Fumbles-lost 3-0 - 2-1
Penalties-yards 3-20 - 6-55
Rushing: H - Joseph Raffensperger 19-62, Berger 16-124, Nicholas Kuhn 5-(minus-1), Robby Henne 7-25, Ian Hamilton 2-5; NL - Derek DiAngelis 12-49, Ray 14-54, Tito Rivera 3-2, Travis Gates 3-28, Stephen Speer 1-(minus-21), team 1-(minus-24)
Passing: H - Berger 1-1-0 13 yards, Kuhn 4-5, 86 yards, Ronald Thompson 0-1, 0 yards; NL - Ray 7-16, 90 yards
Receiving: H - Berger 3-28, Miller 2-71; NL - Pat Stevens 3-58, Yost 2-17, DiAngelis 1-13, Rivera 1-2