After big win, Northeastern's goals within reach
Looking back, Brendan Brown saw it coming.
Asked this week about his Northeastern football team's 37-7, take-notice drubbing of William Penn, the Bobcats coach referenced a moment from a week earlier. After their 14-12 loss to Shippensburg -- a sucker-punch defeat in a game which Northeastern mostly dominated -- the Bobcats gathered at midfield for their usual, postgame chat. Such losses are usually accompanied by downward stares and tight-lipped silence.
Instead, Brown saw something else: Confidence.
"Obviously our coaching staff was worried about (William Penn)," Brown recalled. "I told them, it really doesn’t matter. I said ‘If Oklahoma shows up next week, they’re in trouble.’ So (William Penn) was kind of in the wrong spot."
Indeed, Northeastern parlayed the positives from their Week 3 defeat into a crushing performance against a turnover-prone Bearcats team. At 2-2, the Bobcats have a chance to accomplish two things the program, now in its fourth season, has never done: Finish .500, and make the District 3 playoffs.
The key, Brown said, has been leadership.
"This is by far the best group of seniors we’ve had," Brown said. "And that’s kind of the way it should be. They knew what our expectations were. They came up around our coaches. And it really set in with them.
"We have somewhere between 12 and 14 seniors. And almost every one of the those guys is a contributor."
Quarterback Nick Small, now in his third season as a starter, has matured into the team's physical and emotional leader. He connected on all four of his passes Friday for 95 yards and three touchdowns.
Having such a strong group of upperclassmen allowed Brown and his coaches to do more. They went to more offseason camps. They were focused on the game's nuances, rather than drilling the basics over and over again. "We did more because we knew the kids would respond," Brown said.
Perhaps that maturity would explain why Northeastern turned that loss to Shippensburg -- a potentially devastating blow -- into a springboard.
"They were so positive after that Shippensburg game," Brown said. "You see college teams and big-time teams, they can’t recover after a game like that."
So can this Northeastern team become the program's first to make the playoffs? Here's a look at the Bobcats' remaining schedule (all games at 7 p.m.):
Sept. 30, at Dallastown
Oct. 7, vs. New Oxford
Oct. 14, at Susquehannock
Oct. 21, vs. Dover
Oct. 28, at West York
Nov. 4, vs Kennard-Dale
You can begin to see why beating the Bearcats was such a big step. Two of those games -- Dover and West York -- figure to be an uphill climb. And this week's meeting with Dallastown should be a toss-up.
Split those final six games, and that gets the Bobcats to 5-5. That might be enough to get them in. Last season, three 5-5 teams, including Kennard-Dale, made the District 3-AAA playoffs. Northeastern ranks 19th in Class AAA in the newest district power rankings. The top 16 teams qualify.
Of course, a 6-4 finish would make matters much easier.
Bottom line: There's a lot that has to happen still. But thanks to last week's win, all of the Bobcats goals now appear reachable.
"We knew we couldn't head into league play worse than 2-3 if we want to use the word 'playoffs' in our vocabulary," Brown said.
"It is unreal how much of a motivation it is to them," the coach added. "Every day they walk on a field, they’re talking about wanting to go to the playoffs. We're not talking about Dover or West York. They're looking at the big picture. They want to do whatever it takes to make the playoffs."