Practicing and playing on the week of Thanksgiving is special for high school football teams.
In most seasons, reaching that achievement means a team has reached the third round of the playoffs. While most schools have moved on to basketball seasons, these select few teams have their dreams of a state championship intact.
This week is nothing new to Chilton, but it feels a little different this time. After all, there were definitely moments during the season in which it didn’t appear as if the Pirates could reach this landmark week.
A 2-2 start with back-to-back losses to Burton and Bosqueville had Chilton questioning itself, but the Pirates reshuffled the deck, rolled to a district championship and find themselves with a chance to get into the state’s final eight with a win over undefeated Iola, a game that will be played Saturday in Bryan.
“I always felt like the pieces were there,” Chilton coach Robert Little said. “It was just a matter of getting kids where they needed to fit, then once we got them there getting them to believe that’s where they needed to be. Early in the year we took a few lumps, and luckily nobody panicked and didn’t do anything crazy.”
The lowest point was a 42-13 drubbing at the hands of Bosqueville despite coming off a bye week and having two weeks to prepare.
But that was the last time the Pirates tasted defeat. They started district with a 19-12 win over Dallas Gateway, but they knew the story of the season could very well be written the next week against Hubbard. The Jaguars stuffed the Chilton offense, but the Pirates returned the favor in a defensive struggle. Chilton took that one, 14-6, and that solidified in everybody’s mind that things were moving in the right direction.
“After we took another loss to Bosqueville, that was two straight, and I think that shaped us up,” senior Joseph Holland said. “We knew against Hubbard, that would be the district title, one of the first games of district. We knew we had to win and it would shape the season and really get the guys going if we won. It was a hard game, but we won”
The rest of the district slate proved to be a breeze, thanks to an offense that started to hit its stride and a defense that continued to dominate.
Since those two losses, nobody has managed to score more than 13 points against Chilton. The Pirates have allowed only one score in six of the eight games since, including last week’s 33-7 win over Timpson to open the playoffs.
Two of those opponents that scored once failed to reach the end zone, and the Pirates pitched a shutout in a 57-0 win over Meridian, a game that all but wrapped up the district title
“It was like when you go through two-a-days and everything that you work for finally pays off when you make an achievement like that,” Holland said. “Even thought Coach Little has so many playoff wins and everything, he only has (four) district titles since he’s been here. To be part of that is a big thing.”
It’s taken leadership to get the Pirates there, and they’ve received it from several seniors.
Quarterback Norvell Alston is a soft-spoken young man, but he’s a dangerous player as a runner and thrower, while Demarcus Simpson’s athleticism allows him to be used all over the field offensively and defensively. Combine that with a hard-nosed player on the line like Brandon Harris, and the Pirates have a strong nucleus that helped keep things together early in the year when the team could have splintered.
“Norvell is one of those kids every coach ought of have a team full of,” Little said. “He’s a great kid. He’s going to do whatever you ask him to do. He’s not going to miss practice, and he’s going to do what he needs to do in the classroom. Demarcus has made one of the biggest turnarounds I’ve seen. We had some issues with him, but he’s bought in now and feels good about what he’s doing and what his role is, and he’s one of those kids that can definitely make a difference for you on a Friday night. Harris is another one that isn’t vocal, but he’s a good worker and good leader for our young kids, especially offensive linemen. We’re very fortunate. The seniors this year are a good group for us.”
Throw in a player like Chris Holder, who has been a mainstay on the back end of the defense, and the Pirates have some special talent on the roster.
And Chilton’s confidence has continued to grow week in and week out as the wins piled up.
“I can’t speak for everybody, but my confidence is high,” Holder said. “I’m just telling everybody to do their job and hope for the best.”
While Chilton has made a habit of still being around Thanksgiving week and enjoys the more relaxed atmosphere of being able to practice without worrying about school — and the warmer-than-usual weather this week has provided — there’s one player who can appreciate it more than most of them.
Holland transferred to Chilton from Riesel, where he was part of an Indians team that went 0-10 last season. He said the difference between teams that win and those that don’t comes down to one word – attitude.
“It’s a big difference,” Holland said. “They think they can win, and everyone thinks the same way. No team is too good for us. We go into the game thinking if we play the game right, we’re going to win.”