STONEWALL — Late Friday night, North DeSoto coach Scott Abernathy stood in front of his celebrating football team and proudly proclaimed it to be the first, to his knowledge, to go 5-0 in school history.
The Griffins had just beaten 2A power Winnfield 21-16, and excitement about an historic win bubbled over.
One problem, the Griffins were 5-0 in 1988. On Monday morning, Abernathy received a note in his school mailbox correcting his statement.
“It was from someone who played for that team in ’88,” said Abernathy, who led the Griffins to a 4-0 start in 2008, his first season at North DeSoto. “There has been a lot of coaching turnover here, and records weren’t really kept. It’s amazing how those records start popping out of nowhere when you start winning.”
For North DeSoto’s players, not being the lone 5-0 team in program history isn’t a big deal. They have much larger aspirations.
“Even being 6-0 isn’t the final goal,” senior offensive lineman Jared Rascoe said. “We want to go 15-0. And you can’t get to 15-0 without being 6-0 first.”
Abernathy credits his team’s surge to senior leadership; the Griffins have 16 seniors, a higher number than usual at North DeSoto.
“That is a huge component to any great team,” Abernathy said. “We feel like we have a really good group of seniors. To this point, they have made the difference.”
Last season, North DeSoto lost five games by less than a touchdown and finished the regular season 4-6 with two straight heart-breaking District 1-3A losses — 29-26 against Loyola and 14-13 to Bossier.
During the summer, Abernathy led a leadership class. As a result, he believes his team is tougher mentally in those close games.
“We have been talking about having the right mentality,” Abernathy said. “It’s something that we’ve been preaching. We had a close game against Mansfield where we had to come back in the second half. The emphasis has been on maturity.”
So far, Abernathy’s team has taken his words to heart.
“It’s not just about how you perform, it has to do with what is going on in your head,” senior receiver/defensive back Detric Clark said. “We are all playing as one.”
Winnfield returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown Friday, but North DeSoto’s players didn’t get down.
“We know we bounce back from bad plays during practice all the time, so we just had to do it to start the game,” senior defensive lineman Dennis Antwine said. “If the game is close, we don’t let it get to us. We know what we need to do, and we go get it done.”
Anyone watching the Griffins play might wonder why many of them wear red plastic bracelets. Abernathy handed them out as leadership reminders during the summer class.
“It has a 1 on the inside and the word effort on the outside for one effort,” Antwine said as he twisted his bracelet around during practice. “It also says Stonewall, so we don’t forget where we come from.”
This week continues a tough stretch for North DeSoto, a string of games Abernathy called “murderer’s row.” It started with Winnfield. Friday, the Griffins play at 5A Natchitoches Central.
“The challenge is that you are 5-0 and everyone is hunting for you now,” Abernathy said. “And Natchitoches is a good football team at 4-1. It’s not a situation where we are going in worrying about an opponent another week away. We have a big task at hand this week. It’s difficult to play down there at Northwestern.”
Ruston, another 5A opponent, will travel to Stonewall the following week, before North DeSoto wraps up the season against its three 1-3A opponents.
So far, no defense has been able to stop North DeSoto’s rushing attack. Aurren Cooksey had all three of the Griffins touchdowns on the ground against Winnfield.
Cooksey leads the way with 587 rushing yards and seven scores, but Enone Thompson has 417 yards and four touchdowns. Assuntay Clever also has four touchdowns to go with 235 yards.
Abernathy would like his strong ground game to lead to another talk to his team about being the first, as far as he knows, to go 6-0 in North DeSoto history. The 1988 squad, coached by Mike Boyd, finished 5-4.
“I hope I have to find out if any other team has been 6-0,” Abernathy said.
If the Griffins keep winning, eventually he will be correct.
Connect with Brent Shirley on Twitter at @bshirley08.