Hard work, progression pay dividends for Panthers
Fairbanks senior Tyler Beem (8) makes a catch during Friday’s game against Northeastern. The Panthers have shown marked improvement during the past four seasons.
(Journal-Tribune photo by Tim Miller)
It has been a somewhat lengthy process, but the Fairbanks High School football team is creeping back to where past Panther squads have traveled.
Friday evening’s victory over Northeastern was FHS’ fifth of the current season.
That win total matches last year’s with three weeks left in the regular season.
It’s no secret that the Panther gridiron program was in rough shape a few years ago when head coach Patrick Cotter assumed control.
The team had won only three games during the previous two seasons before Cotter took over in 2015.
The former Monarch assistant coach’s first season continued down that same path as no wins were recorded.
Things got a little better in 2016 with a pair of victories.
Last year’s 5-5 mark was still even better.
While the numbers continued to climb during Cotter’s first three seasons, there was even more tangible evidence of the program’s improvement.
The Panthers had a difficult time being competitive during 2015 games.
That began to change during the following season. Even though FHS lost eight times in 2016, several were close outcomes and could have gone down to a play or two.
A switch to the Ohio Heritage Conference from the Mid Ohio Athletic Conference certainly helped with the progress.
The OHC features schools much closer to Fairbanks’ demographic. It is a conference in which the Panthers can be very competitive as the past two seasons can attest.
The current campaign got off to a rocky start with a lopsided loss to Union County-rival North Union.
Senior quarterback Jacob Nicol, a key component of the team, was also injured the first few weeks of the season.
North Union is flat-out a very good football team and the Wildcats probably would still have beaten the Panthers even if Nicol had played.
The final margin of victory, though, may have been closer.
FHS also lost to a very strong Greeneview squad as well.
The Panthers face arguably the toughest part of their schedule during the final three weeks of the season.
They have a very critical game on the road at West Liberty-Salem on Friday, followed by a game at Triad and the regular season finale at home against Mechanicsburg.
It’s a three-week stretch against teams that have winning records.
However, Mechanicsburg showed it’s not invincible as the Indians lost on Friday to West Jefferson by a score of 23-19.
As Panther Nation remembers, FHS beat West Jeff 38-24 on Sept. 28.
What does that mean for Fairbanks’ Senior Night game against Mechanicsburg on Oct. 26?
The Division VI state playoffs are in the back of the Panthers’ minds, along with a possible OHC North Division title.
If Fairbanks wants to achieve those goals, these next three weeks are crucial.
The Panthers are in line for a playoff berth as this week’s unofficial ratings, which folks learned about late Friday night, have them at seventh in Region 23 of Division VI.
The official computer ratings will be released late Tuesday.
A couple of the teams who are ranked ahead of the Panthers have some difficult contests ahead of them.
If Fairbanks can win at least two of its final three games, that should solidify a playoff berth.
West Jefferson’s win over Mechanicsburg has given the Panthers secondary points in their poll climb.
FHS also can’t afford any slip-ups in order to fulfill its quest for a divisional title.
It’s good to see the Panthers have these goals in front of them at this point in the season.
It’s been awhile.
Cotter has repeatedly said the success his team has experienced is the result of all the hard work it has put in over the past four seasons.
Hopefully, that success will continue for many years to come.
...For the full story, select an option below.