Before the season started, first-year head football coach Cody Spegal said his young Winfield Warriors will have to “learn how to win.”
Part of learning how to win, he said, is how to deal with adversity – and though his team dropped a heartbreaking 21-14 decision to Wright City in the rain Friday night – he liked a lot of what he saw.
Trailing 21-7 in the fourth quarter, Spegal’s squad showed the fight he demanded from his team at halftime. After Cole Sams recovered a fumble from Wright City quarterback Hayden Beck deep in Wildcat territory, Winfield took advantage on a 2-yard TD run by Rayden Hudson to trim the deficit to 21-14.
Hudson saw the ball a great deal in the second half due to a change in offense in the second half. With starting quarterback Wade Ellison dealing with injuries throughout the game, Spegal used Hudson running the ball from the quarterback position with success.
“Going into the fourth quarter, we put in a new offense on the fly,” said Spegal, whose Warriors fall to 0-3 overall. “(Hudson) showed a lot of toughness tonight under the circumstances.”
Winfield seemed to have the upper hand early in the contest, marching downfield on its first possession to a score. Ellison found a wide-open Austin Bray in the end zone from 13-yards away for a quick 7-0 advantage.
However, the Warriors’ fortunes slowly went south from there. Winfield suffered a turnover on downs and an interception, both inside the Wright City 30-yard-line, as the opening quarter ended.
The Wildcats finally took advantage of Winfield’s inefficiency. Dalton Wiser scored the first of his two TDs from 29 yards out. The PAT was missed, but Wright City was on the board, 7-6.
The misery was just beginning for the Warriors. A surprise onside kick squirted through the hands of two Winfield players before a Wildcat player recovered the ball just before going out of bounds.
Two plays and a penalty later, Jeremiah Davis broke a 69-yard scoring run. Beck successfully ran in the 2-point conversion, and Wright City took a lead it never lost at 14-7.
The weather reared its ugly head once again on the ensuing kickoff, which was fumbled once again by Winfield – and recovered by Wright City.
Wiser capped the short drive with his second TD run of the game, and the Wildcats suddenly ran into the locker room with a 14-point advantage.
Wiser rushed for 110 yards on 25 carries to lead the Wildcats, who improved to 3-0 on the young season. Davis added 11 carries for 101 yards to go along with his score.
“We were tackling. We were diving at ankles,” Spegal said. “We’ll watch the film together, work on that and get better.”
Winfield had a pair of chances to tie or win the game in the final four minutes. Ellison was stopped inches short on fourth down to turn the ball over to Wright City at 2:39 of the fourth quarter. The Warriors had one more chance with less than a minute to go and no time outs, but couldn’t get anywhere close to range for a score before time expired.
Despite the way the game ended, Spegal was still proud of his team’s play in the second half.
“I’ve been talking to them all week about how to handle adversity,” he said. “We got hit in the mouth in the second quarter, and I told them at halftime the second half was a test to show if they can bounce back.”
Winfield will try to get their first victory of the season when they travel to St. Charles West for its Gateway-North conference opener. Kickoff is 7 p.m.