A Special Playoff Feature by Cliff Gibson; Photo by Andy Reine
That's the difference in the Bishop Lynch Friars entering the playoffs with a 9-1 record, as opposed to the 5-5 mark they'll carry to Houston on Saturday to face St. Thomas in a TAPPS Division I playoff game.
But ask the players and coaches. They don't want to hear the sugar-coated stuff like, "Good job, you were so close." No … they choose instead to take the lessons learned and put them forward into the games that really count in the playoffs.
"As a competitor and coach I feel like I set the bar high for this team and if you go back and look, we're 21 points away from being 9-1 and winning our district," head coach Chuck Faucette said of his first season with the Friars. "We're young with a lot of guys on varsity for the first time and we have a lot of young contributors. Seeing now what we're capable of, we can beat anybody. We know we can make a run to state."
In order to do that, the Friars will have to first get past St. Thomas (5-5), a team that started 1-4 but ripped off four straight district wins before ending the season with a loss to St. Pius X in the regular-season finale.
The matchup is a tough one, albeit, one the team knows it can win. After all … it could've been much worse. They were just a couple of points away from having to make a long drive to Brownsville. Faucette stated how beneficial it was to get the game in Houston.
"We were relieved to be going to Houston instead of making that trip to Brownsville," he said. "It helps us stay in our routine. Being in Houston is more normal for us so we can go through most of the normal gameday process."
Getting to this point was a road full of obstacles. The Friars finished 3-4 in district play, including a 40-35 win over Parish to close out the season. The special teams unit made a huge impact at the best possible time, scoring the game's first 13 points.
"We really impressed upon the kids how important special teams was and knew we'd have to make an impact in that area against Parish," Faucette said. "They did a great job. That group responded and rose to the occasion. What they were able to do really was the difference in the game. It'll be important for us this week too."
Prior to that contest, the Friars' games came down to the final possession every week, except for a homecoming blowout of John Paul II.
Bishop Lynch opened with a 28-21 loss at Dunne, bounced back to beat a high-powered TCA team 49-42, then went back on the road and fell to Prestonwood, 46-39, a loss that really stung as a game-tying punt return was wiped out by a flag inside of a minute to play.
"When we matched up against teams like Bishop Dunne and Prestonwood, the guys were asking themselves 'CAN we beat them,' and now they know they can," Faucette said.
Homecoming couldn't have come at a better time, as the Friars bounced back from the loss at PCA by stomping John Paul II by a 63-14 score. Then came an incredibly heartbreaking pair of losses – 17-14 at Liberty Christian and 27-23 at home against Nolan.
The Friars led 14-0 at halftime in Argyle, but were shut down in the second half and eventually gave up the winning score with just 1:16 to play. Against Nolan, the Friars gave up the winning score with 1:13 remaining.
Losing in that way in consecutive weeks weighed heavy on the heart and mind of Faucette, who had a legitimate concern for the psyche of his team.
"Those games were tough for us as a coaching staff. When you're dealing with teenagers it's hard to get them back mentally after something like that. Some teams can take a nosedive," Faucette said. "But after those two losses, instead of beating them down over the mistakes, we had to restart the engines and look at the positive things."
One of the ways Faucette got through to his team was by putting the focus on the playoffs, even with the game at Parish looming.
"After the Nolan game I told them it's a two-week process," he said. "We want to win the game against Parish for morale and momentum, but it's more important to focus on the next two weeks. The playoffs are coming and it's one-and-done at that point."
Winning at Parish helped the team not only gain momentum heading into the postseason but showed everybody that this team – above all else – will never back away from a fight.
"Not one time did these kids lay down. They fought in every game, all 10 games on our schedule," Faucette said. "Now, we don't want people patting us on the back saying 'well, you were close.' We don't want that. Close isn't good enough. I can't teach the will to win, but the kids have done a great job with that."
There for every up and down this season, the Friar fan-base continues to pour out unwavering support, something Faucette knows has been essential to the team's success.
"The support has been great. We have a lot of fans and they come with us everywhere," he said. "It's a great thing. People are caring about BL football and the direction of the program and it's been big for us as a team."
Another big wave of Friar fans in black should be on display Saturday at Granger Stadium. Add that to one heck of a tough, battle-tested team with an undeniable will to fight to the bitter end, and this should be a game to remember.