The Needles High football team is looking for revenge when it visits division foe Mountain View on Thursday.
Both meetings last season ended in double-digit losses, including a 56-7 loss in the state quarterfinals. This time around, coach David Smith says his Mustangs are ready to reverse the score because they’re more mature and united.
“I’ve got a good group of guys,” Smith said. “We were young the last two years, but now we’re playing more as a team. Last year, I had a bunch of individuals.”
Smith said this week’s practices have been as upbeat as ever because everyone is aware of what’s at stake.
“I’m just trying to keep them motivated,” Smith said. “I’m telling them to stay focused and to not have mental mistakes.”
A win against Mountain View (6-1, 5-0) would put Needles (5-2, 4-1) in first place in the Division III Southern League, and would set up a showdown with The Meadows next week with the potential for a three-way tie atop the league.
“These last two games are going to be my most important games,” Smith said. “The playoff situation is really starting to creep up there. This is going to be for seeding.
“If things don’t go our way, I have a feeling I’ll be back playing Mountain View.”
Needles has chosen the right time to come on strong. In its last three games, the Mustangs have outscored their opponents 105-6. Their defense has earned two shutouts in the process.
Smith knows that the dominant defense must continue against Mountain View and star running backs, Matthew Larson and Jacob Duldulao, who both were Division III all-state picks last year.
The two players combined to score 12 of Mountain View’s 15 touchdowns against Needles last year.
“Those two guys are still doing real well this year,” Smith said. “My kids just have to do their assignment. I’ve got to get all 11 kids to the ball.”
Smith will rely heavily on his balanced rushing attack. Three of his players have eclipsed 200 yards rushing this season and four players have scored three or more touchdowns.
Kobee McCorkle leads the bunch with 546 yards on 90 carries. McCorkle also is the team’s leading tackler.
“He is doing a real good job offensively and defensively,” Smith said.
Smith said his players have become less selfish and their football knowledge has increased because of it.
“Rather than having four or five kids that are football savvy, I’ve got it up to eight or nine this year,” he said.
This week, Smith has stressed that it will take a full team effort to pull off the road victory.
“We have to come out hard from the start,” Smith said. “The most important thing is that we just play football.”