Two weeks ago, the Nashua High School South football team was coming off a big win over Nashua North with a big game against Salem still another week away.
In between the two was a game against a Londonderry team with a losing record, and the Panthers lost that game.
Once again, South is coming off a big win over Salem and next week, the Panthers will face Manchester Central in a game that will likely decide if either team gets a playoff spot in Division I. But this week, South (4-2 in division, 5-3 overall) travels to Exeter (0-6, 1-7) Friday for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
Could it happen again? Not if the Panthers have learned their lesson, said coach Scott Knight.
“We’re approaching this game like it’s a playoff game,” he said. “We’re in playoff mode now. We learned a valuable lesson in that loss at Londonderry. These kids will be ready to play.”
The Panthers might be in playoff mode, but there’s still no guarantee they’ll get into the postseason. Certainly, if South wins its final two games, it will get in and may even get to host a playoff game.
But if the Panthers lose even one, they could be on the outside looking in again.
“We need to win three in a row to get to the finals and that’s the way we’re looking at it,” Knight said. “That’s it.”
Exeter has struggled in its first season in Division I. The Blue Hawks defeated Dover in a non-division game to open the season and have since lost seven straight, including a non-division loss to Winnacunnet.
But of Exeter’s six division losses, three of them have been by a touchdown or less.
“They’re record doesn’t have to do with moving up,” Knight said. “They’re well-coached and they do everything right. That’s why they’ve gotten better every week. They do a lot of things well and we’ll have to play a good game to beat them.”
There were some things that South struggled with against Salem – the Panthers turned the ball over four times and allowed over 400 yards rushing – but was still able to pull out a win despite being down 10 points with less than seven minutes to play.
That might seem like an insurmountable lead, especially considering the Panthers had to give the ball back to Salem after scoring to make it a three-point game, it was nothing compared to the rally South made against Londonderry.
“We were down 41-13 at halftime the week before,” Knight said. “It was just the same thing, we can get back in this. We feel confident in our ability to score points. We never get spooked. We have that ability and we feel we can score at any time.”
Although the coaches may believe that, it helps the players to actually do it on the field.
“That definitely helps our confidence, no questions,” Knight said. “Last year, we didn’t beat playoff teams. We needed to beat a good team. That’s where the win over North was important, and obviously, the win over Salem was important.”
South needs two more important wins to get an opportunity to beat those playoff teams when it matters most – in the playoffs.