The Winooski High School football team sits at 0-3 on the season, done in by a pair of one-point defeats on the road and missed chances in its home opener.
There was Oxbow punching in a two-point conversion for a 15-14 win in Week 1. There was Mount Abraham pulling away for a 36-23 victory after the Spartans came away with no points on three of their drives that reached the red zone.
And then there was last week: The Spartans went for the win instead of playing for overtime, getting stuffed on a two-point play in the final minute of a 20-19 loss to Poultney.
“We want these seniors to get that first win. They deserve it,” said Winooski coach Josh Safran at the start of Wednesday’s practice. “This game is literally a game of inches. That maybe happens once a season, but these guys have had it twice now.”
A team leader, Kevin Pham has been a strong voice inside the locker room and on the field. And classmate Andrew Decarreau’s inspired play on the field — both offensively and defensively — has motivated others, Safran said.
“We have good seniors. They are not letting this team wallow in self pity,” Safran said.
The close losses, while tough to take, have not been demoralizing, Pham said.
“We have to look at it even though it was a loss, it could have gone either way. We have to learn from our mistakes and get wins because a loss is still a loss,” Pham said. “Our team still thinks we get a playoff spot and there are a lot of people rooting for us.”
This week, the coaching staff picked up the tempo in practice. Following offseason training, led by volunteer coach Bryan Ravlin, the players are conditioned for the additional workload.
“We want them to react to the physical part of the game and not think as much,” Safran said. “We are trying to get kids to trust their football instincts. We’ve had great practices.”
The Spartans have already faced adversity in a season that was put in doubt earlier this year because of participation concerns. At the first day of preseason, only 16 players showed. The roster now has 17 active players, many of whom returned as starters from a year ago, including Pham and Decarreau.
“The biggest accomplishment was just having a season,” Safran said. “But the reality is we are a good football team. We got to crack that first win and then we will see what happens.”
The Spartans play host to U-32 tonight, the start of a three-week stretch that includes Milton of Division II and Woodstock, the Division III two-time champion.