It was an affirmation of hope, a simple message shared by two coaches.
In separate interviews on separate days, Crestview head coach Kevin Pettis and Choctaw head coach Greg Thomas made sure to clarify one thing headed into Friday’s District 2-6A matchup at Choctaw: Last week’s 21-17 District 2-6A losses weren’t backbreakers.
The setbacks were emblematic of the early season’s struggles. For the Indian, the defeat at Navarre was just one of four losses suffered by seven points or less. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs’ district-opening loss to Fort Walton Beach at home was the tip of the iceberg for a program that has lost four straight after a 2-0 start.
“We are so close,” said Thomas, whose team is 2-4 and 1-1 in district play. “We’re just not finishing like we want to. But our goals are still there for district success, and this is a very big week for both teams.”
It was the same message issued by Pettis, who said the Bulldogs 2-4 campaign has been underwhelming to say the least.
“At this point in time, needless to say it’s been disappointing,” he said. “Our expectations were so high at the beginning of the year. That close loss to Bolles (a 20-13 defeat at home to begin the four-game losing streak), we haven’t recovered from it or been the same since. I’ve never been a part of four game losing streak in my whole career. But even so, all our goals are still in tact. We just have to take care of business and go out there and find a way to play Crestview football.”
Both teams are still holding out for a top-two district finish to make the playoffs, and one loss has not put them out of the discussion. But with Fort Walton Beach and Navarre both 2-0, there’s little – if any at all – room for error.
For Crestview, the setbacks mainly stem from their fourth-quarter woes. To wit: Including last week’s goose egg against the Vikings, the Bulldogs have been outscored 34-7 in the final 12 minutes of play of their losses and 41-14 overall.
“We have to be able to close out our games,” Pettis said. “We have to win fourth quarters and that’s not what we’ve been doing.”
The same message rings true for the Indians, whose four losses have come by a combined 15 points.
“Last week was another tough loss for us,” said Thomas, whose team surrendered a 17-6 lead with less than 6 minutes left in the game. “We’ve had a lot of those this year, but we just have to learn from them and get better.”
Defensively for the Indians, the success lies in containing the Reed brothers and quarterback Dakota Davis.
Running back Micah Reed is coming off back-to-back two score efforts, rushing for 179 yards last week and 127 yards in the 49-14 loss at home to Godby, and Emmanuel Reed, who hauled in four catches for 68 yards last week, is Davis’ go-to-target in an offense that has yet to top 20 points over the last four weeks and is averaging just 18.3 points per contest.
“I felt like our offense did a good job the other night,” Pettis said about the 17-point effort at home against FWB. “We just didn’t take advantage of the situation and capitalize on the opportunities we had.”
Aside from averaging less than 13 points per game during their four-game skid, the Bulldogs have also struggled defensively, yielding 39.5 points per contest during that span. And this week it doesn’t get any easier facing an offense featuring the likes of running back John Hicks, who’s piled up four scores and more than 400 rushing yards over the last three weeks, quarterback Garrison Floyd and wide receiver Gaston Rackard.
“They do create some matchup problems,” Pettis said. “But at this point it’s about how you play and not who you play. We just have to execute.”
And as noted earlier, that includes putting aside the past failures and learning to finishing in the clutch.
“The great teams have to deal with adversity,” Pettis said. “Changing the culture is what we’re trying to do and that takes time. I love our team and love our players; we just have to learn to close out games.”