South Western players discuss the team's strong play on defense recently. The Mustangs beat Central York, 14-11, last Friday. Matt Allibone
The Mustangs are 3-2 following last week's 14-11 win over Central York, but are approaching this week like they're 0-0.
The first few weeks of this season, there wasn't much talk about South Western.
While the Mustangs were coming off a District 3 playoff appearance, they started the season 1-2 and endured back-to-back losses to strong programs in Manheim Township and Carlisle. With Central York, Dallastown, Northeastern and Red Lion all looking like contenders in Division I, it was easy to overlook South Western.
But after two straight wins, including an impressive 14-11 victory last week against Central York, the Mustangs are undefeated in division play and rightly in the conversation for the Division I title.
Just don't try having that conversation with head coach Damian Poalucci and his players.
"We don’t sit around and say we’re 2-0 this week, that’s for (the media) to debate about," Poalucci said. "Our big thing is we’re 0-0 this week. By the end of Friday night I tell the kids we want to be 1-0. And by Sunday we’re back to 0-0. We’re not saying we’re playing good football now, people have to respect us now. That’s not what it’s about. These kids don’t think that way.”
With a huge game at home this Friday against undefeated Red Lion and another next week on the road at Dallastown, the Mustangs aren't letting themselves think too far ahead. While they're currently ranked seventh in District 3 Class 5A, only eight teams make the playoffs and every loss hurts.
According to Poalucci, the team hasn't had a single conversation about the playoffs. He estimated that "probably 85 or 90" percent of the roster doesn't know the team's ranking.
"I could care less about being an underdog or being the top dog, I'm just out here to play football and win games," senior offensive and defensive lineman Bubba Carbaugh said.
Added senior quarterback and safety Nate VanCampen: "We didn't think about where we were ranked too much, we knew the level we could play at. We're looking to compete with every team in the league and we feel we can really do that."
The Mustangs may have already moved on from last week's win over Central, but they will certainly try to replicate that defensive performance this Friday. The Panthers entered last week's contest averaging 32 points per game but were held to just 11 while rushing for 42 yards against the Mustangs.
It was the second straight dominant performance by the South Western defense, following a 50-6 win over New Oxford. While the Mustangs struggled on defense early in the season during a 35-0 loss to Manheim Township, they improved by focusing on tackling.
"We’ve been playing well all year but we had to go back and focus on tackling, and work those fundamentals a little more," Poalucci said. "But we didn’t play that poorly against Manheim Township. We played Carlisle very tough. Against New Oxford it started to click. That starts in practice with the mindset of let’s go play.”
South Western faces another one of the league's top offenses this week. Red Lion is currently second in the league in points and features two players with over 500 yards rushing in running back Dylan Gurreri and quarterback Sam Emig.
Poalucci isn't worried about his team having a letdown after last week's big win, but he has stressed the importance of staying focused on football. This week also happens to be homecoming for the Mustangs.
"The main thing is not the homecoming dance, the main thing is performing on Friday," the coach said. "A high school kid’s mind, they’re thinking about who the date is, where they’re going for dinner. That’s good, but I have to say, 'Saturday is not going to be as fun if you overlook Friday night.'”
The message seems to be resonating with the team's players.
"You know there's going to be a lot of people there, but you've still got to approach it like, 'This is Red Lion, here's what we're going to do to beat them,'" VanCampen said. "Once you're in the game it's no different than any other."