Sandusky senior captain and defensive lineman Eddie Wimbley isn’t afraid to admit what he felt walking off the field after a 28-0 loss to Perkins in the anticipated “Hometown Showdown” at Strobel Field in Week 2.
“I was embarrassed,” Wimbley said. “I know our team could have done better than that.”
After an 0-3 start that drew harsh criticism to the program, coaching staff and players, Wimbley and the rest of the Blue Streaks will walk onto the field at Buckenmeyer Stadium in Napoleon tonight with a completely different mind-set — playing the most meaningful late October game for the team in 12 years.
“It’s a great feeling to be a part of any kind of positive history,” senior wide receiver Davion Caston said. “To be able to get this win would be something special, and I’m just happy to be a part of this.”
What once seemed like a pipe dream is a reality for the Streaks, who can earn a share of their first Greater Buckeye Conference title tonight with a victory against Napoleon, heading into the season finale with rival Fremont Ross.
The road back to contention began forming during a 21-point loss in Week 3.Channeling negativity
It was so overbearing, it simply couldn’t be ignored.
Sandusky opened the season with a loss at Lorain Southview, a program that is just 3-45 in its last 48 games. The admitted embarrassment to Perkins followed, and the faithful of “Big Blue” was officially restless.
Fourth-year coach Mike Franklin came under immediate fire, with Internet message boards set abuzz with comments critical of the play calling, wanting — and even demanding — yet another coaching change.
“What made it hard was everyone didn’t even know what they were talking about,” Caston said. “They were talking just to be negative. It wasn’t easy, but we fought through it.”
Franklin’s biggest concern at the time was making sure he, not his players, took the heat.
“Anytime you have expectations and you’re not living up to it, someone has to take the blame,” Franklin said. “And I told the kids after Week 2 that it all falls on myself. I wanted to take it off the kids because I didn’t want them to think they had done something wrong, because they hadn’t.
“At the end of the day, it’s the head coach’s fault, and I fully put that on myself and the kids supported me 100 percent. I think we are moving away from that in the right direction now. Being in this position is a credit to the kids. After Week 2 and 3, we lost a lot of our following. The kids and coaches didn’t let that bother them. Unfortunately, it just took us a little while to get going.”
Wimbley thinks the public beating the team took played a direct role in the Streaks’ three-game winning streak in the GBC.
“Believe it or not, we took it as motivation,” he said. “Everywhere we looked, whether it was the newspaper or looking on Fandy and anywhere else, we had a lot of people talking bad about us, and we fed off it. Coach always reminded us before games that we’re doing it for our city.”
Caston and Franklin both pointed to the 42-21 loss to Toledo St. John’s in Week 3 as a turning point.
“When we lost to Perkins like that, it was horrible,” Caston said. “Then we weren’t picked to do well against a well-known team like St. John’s, but we played a good game up until the fourth quarter, which is where we lost it. That was the moment where we turned it around.”
Said Franklin, “Going into halftime up 21-15 against one of the top Division I programs in northwest Ohio, I told the kids that if they couldn’t see what they could do now, then it was going to be a long season. I’ve told them before that once we get going, we’re not going to stop.”
The Streaks have channeled all the negativity and let their play do the talking, according to Franklin.
“Being here for 30-some years, you kind of know everybody,” he said. “But you just hope you have the support. You can badmouth the coaches all you want, but it’s about the kids. By the time it’s all said and done, the kids hear a lot of negative, and I try to make sure they know it’s towards me, not them.
“You have to kind of shed that off and tell them that they are darn good players and at the end of the day, let your play speak for itself. They’ve started to do that, and I think we’re doing some good things right now.”A noticeable difference
Walking off the field after last Friday’s 15-12 vicory at Marion Harding, it started to hit Wimbley what was happening.
“I was just so proud of everyone,” he said. “It was a lot of weight lifted off our shoulders, and we know we have to get it done this week and that can be it. This whole team matured, and that is why there is a visible difference in our team.
Not since Week 10 against Fremont Ross in 1997 has Sandusky played for a conference title this late in the season.
“It means a lot knowing it’s our senior season and we have a chance to step up and leave a big mark. Hopefully we come out firing.”
Sandusky Athletic Director Susan Sackett said a vibe of confidence among the players can be seen in the hallways during the day. Fan support also spiked, as a charter bus ride was offered for fans to make the two-hour trip today for $20 a person.
“It was filled within a day and a half,” Sackett said. “There will be about 40 to 45 people on the bus, which will be great for the boys to see. We’re also trying to get a student bus together for $5 each, and it’s starting to get filled as well.”
With constant talk around the community of Sandusky’s deep tradition in the past, it can sometimes be difficult for the current group of players to establish its own identity.
“It’s a little tough, but knowing you can help get some of that tradition back and knowing you had something to do with it ... it’s a good feeling,” Caston said. “It’s not how you start, but how you finish. Now it’s up to us to finish strong.”
Said Franklin, “It’s been hard trying to get the kids to believe how good they are. When you’re losing and losing like that, it’s tough to get those kids back on track. We’ve competed with these two teams in the past, and we believe our kids are ready to play.
“Win or lose, as long as the kids play hard until the end, we’ll be fine.”