WINCHESTER, Ind. – Dustyn Hangen remembers the 1-9 season.
Hangen was a freshman that year, as Winchester struggled to its first one-win season in more than a decade.
Mike Jones, a Winchester graduate, took over the program the next year and immediately set about rebuilding the Falcons.
Three years later, and Hangen is now a senior, and Winchester is again a Tri-Eastern Conference power.
The Falcons are a sectional contender, too, with their sights on the program’s first championship. They’ll get that chance 7 p.m. today when they travel to Shenandoah for the Class 2A Sectional 38 final.
“It’s an honor, really,” Hangen said of playing for the championship. “Freshman year, sectional final wasn’t even our thought process. Now this year, coach Jones … what he has done for our program, it’s really an honor.”
Winchester went from one win to six in Jones’ first season.
The Falcons won a sectional game that year, too, halting Frankton 41-20 before dropping a 58-24 decision at Shenandoah.
Six wins became seven in 2013. Another sectional victory was in the cards as well, though again the Falcons were denied the chance to advance to what would have been their third sectional final.
The pieces have all come together this year. Winchester has been state-ranked in Class 2A for much of the season, and the Falcons have compiled 10 wins for the first time since 2004.
They also boast the state’s most prolific running back in Kiante Enis, who is making a bid at becoming Indiana’s top single-season rusher.
“We’re three years into this program since I came here. That’s a big deal, I think,” Jones said. “They think it’s funny, but they say what I say. They speak our language. They make fun of me a little bit because I say the same things over and over, but they say the same things, and they know that’s what gets us to where we are.
“It’s just a product of time and effort by them, and the coaches.”
That time and effort has paid off, big time.
Winchester’s one loss was to state-ranked and undefeated Northeastern. The Falcons have been held below 28 points just one time, and that was in a 7-0 victory over Noblesville Home School.
No other game was closer than 10 points. Enis has been the center of Winchester’s offense. The junior running back has 3,125 yards on 273 carries.
The state’s single-season record is 3,366, set in 2001 by New Haven’s Cory Jacquay.
“Kiante, with all the yards he has, and to possibly break the state record, it’s pretty amazing,” said sophomore Jonathan Thornburg, who is Winchester’s left tackle. “It’s a great season so far.
“(Friday) it’s a great opportunity to face a team that’s won sectionals. If we win, that’s a great opportunity to go into regionals.”
Shenandoah (9-2) owns four sectional championships throughout its history, the last coming in 2012.
The Raiders defeated Indianapolis Scecina 30-14 in Sectional 38’s opening round, then halted Heritage Christian 28-0 in a semifinal last week.
Both those games were on the road.
“What I think is so cool is you get a really good Shenandoah team against a really good Winchester team,” Jones said. “One’s been there, and one’s trying to get there. It’s going to be just a great evaluation. I think it’s going to be a super ballgame.
“If you’re not doing anything Friday night, you have to watch these two schools play football, because it’s going to be good stuff.”
Winchester and Shenandoah last played in 2012, with the Raiders winning 58-24 in a sectional semifinal.
Falcon senior Austin Myers also played through that 1-9 season.
“We’ve completely turned it around,” he said.
“We knew we were going to be good. We just had to prove it to other people.”
Josh Chapin: (765) 973-4463 firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/JoshChapinPI
At a Glance
• What: IHSAA Class 2A Sectional 38 final
• When/where: 7 p.m. today at Shenandoah
• Teams: Winchester (10-1) at Shenandoah (9-2)
• Cost: $6
• Next: Sectional winner advances to face either Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter or Monrovia on Nov. 14 for regional championship