Mifflin County turns its fortunes

LEWISTOWN — The first four weeks of the season looked bleak for the Mifflin County football team.

The Huskies, trying to find an identity with two new coordinators, struggled with inconsistency and found themselves staring down an 0-4 record.

Then things started to click. Mifflin County found its purpose behind a power running game and an aggressive, attacking defense. The Huskies picked up their first win of the season three weeks ago against previously unbeaten and Mid-Penn Colonial favorite Shippensburg, 26-21.

With that, the Huskies changed their fortunes — rolling to three straight wins and moving into a tie for first place in the Colonial with West Perry. The three consecutive wins are one shy of the school record set back in their inaugural campaign of 2011.

Mifflin County coach Scot Sechler is happy with the turnaround but realizes more work needs to be done. He knows full well his Huskies, minus some mental miscues and turnovers early in the season, could be 6-1 or 5-2 instead of 3-4.

“I didn’t know that (about the win streak). Obviously, we are concerned about the game Friday night. We don’t live in the rearview mirror. We’re happy we’ve got three in a row and where we are at now. If we could go back and redo a few games we would be a lot further ahead than we are now,” Sechler said. “I’m happy with our progress, I’m pleased with our coaching staff and how hard they work. The kids are playing with a crazy amount of heart and determination. That’s the difference right now. They are starting to believe in themselves and that leads to good things.”

The reasons for the turnaround are numerous, but Sechler points to two in particular that changed the fortunes of Mifflin County.

“It’s twofold. We’ve finally settled in on personnel. We’re not bouncing kids around as much as we were at the beginning of the season because we were still trying to feel out how each kid could help the team,” Sechler said. “The other thing is they’re starting to believe in themselves and that’s kind of the secret sauce to the whole thing. When you believe in yourself it’s amazing what you’re able to accomplish.”

Sechler has no worries about overconfidence seeping into his players. Every night at practice the coaching staff reminds them of what lies ahead.

“We are not overconfident and I’m not worried about them getting overconfident. I told the kids, ‘We’ve won three games and that’s great, but it’s only three games. It’s a long season.’ I’m proud of our accomplishments,” Sechler said. “We are going in the right direction, but every week we have to go back to the drawing board, tweak things and continue to work hard in practice and get better. The ‘it’s not about me it’s about the team’ mentality is starting to permeate through the whole system and that’s a good thing.”

Last week’s thrilling 33-27 double-overtime victory over Waynesboro was not only a season-changer, but it could also end up being a program changer as well. The kind that propels a program into a consistent winner.

“That was a signature win for us. I had a lot of people come up to me after the game and say it was one of the best football games they’ve ever watched,” Sechler said. “I said thanks but we have a lot to fix. From a head coach’s standpoint that was a heart attack waiting to happen.”

One thing the winning streak did is bring the community out in droves to support the Huskies.

“The kids see the fanbase and the student section down there cheering for them. When they hear the positive stuff coming out of the stands and see the faces and energy level of the crowd, they are able to feed off of that. They are able to translate that onto the field and you saw that in the second half against Waynesboro,” Sechler said. “I’m thankful the fans are coming out. I’m hoping they continue to come out and be positive. My goal is to pack Mitchell Field. I want the away side full of Mifflin County fans too. My dad used to tell me stories when he played for Lewistown back in the ’60s how it was two-to-three deep, standing room only, the whole way around the fence. I’d like to get back to that.”

The winning streak put Mifflin County into the thick of the District 6 Class 6A playoff race. State College is 6-1 and has the top seed locked down. Altoona (3-4) is 40 points ahead of the Huskies with three games left.

The Mountain Lions have Cumberland Valley (1-6) then two state-ranked teams — State College (6-1) and Harrisburg (6-1) — left. Mifflin County faces Dover (5-2), Greencastle-Antrim (2-5) and West Perry (6-1).

If Altoona, heavy underdogs in its last two games, can beat Cumberland Valley this week, Mifflin County needs to win two for a playoff berth. If the Mountain Lions lose out, the Huskies need to win one of their last three to get in.

“It’s in the back if our minds. We don’t talk about it per se in practice, but I have mentioned that I’d like to get another shot at State College and the kids understand that,” Sechler said. “They know we can potentially get there again. … We don’t live in the future or live in the past, we live in the present. We take it day-by-day and focus on one game at a time. Obviously, if we can win against Dover it would be a big win for the program. They are on a five-game win streak so they’re doing something right.”

The streak is nice and has the team on the right track but there’s still plenty of room for improvement, Sechler said.

“We have to get better. We are still making mental errors, route running errors, the penalties and things like that. Those things bother me as a coach because that’s something you can control,” he said.

“Defensively, we’re making tackles. We’re going to continue to clean up our game and get better at our skills. We need to work on the little things. A great coach told me one time, ‘it’s the little things that make you better.’ We need to focus on the little things and the bigger things will take care of themselves.”