FALL RIVER — Fall River used an early loss to Wild Rose as motivation for the rest of the 2017 prep football season.
In a 27-12 setback in Week 2, the Pirates couldn’t pick up a blitz by the Wildcats or tackle any ballcarriers.
“We used that loss to build off of and it made us better,” Devin Talg said.
Fall River hasn’t lost since, rolling to a Trailways Small Conference championship and a 10-1 record heading into tonight’s WIAA Division 7 state quarterfinal playoff game — against the same Wild Rose team that upended the Pirates early on.
“I think we were a little green around the ears at that point,” senior Chandler Firary said. “We were a little overwhelmed. It was also the second week of the season — we weren’t blending quite yet. We weren’t in our groove. We had some things to work out on offense and defense.
“We didn’t play to our potential quite yet.”
Junior quarterback Luke Figol was 3-for-13 for 5 yards and junior Sam Nelson rushed for 117 rushing yards, but Wild Rose’s Lucas Hackney and Alec Vandecastle each rushed for over 100 yards and quarterback Dillion Martin was 7-for-14 for 55 yards and a touchdown pass.
Both teams have a sense of how each other play, which Fall River head coach Joe Zander says puts the Pirates in a better position than they were before the first meeting in late August.
“Yeah, absolutely, because we were going into the unknown,” Zander said. “They really didn’t want to trade film with us. We ended up getting some film of them, but we didn’t know what they were. We knew they went 9-0 last year. They were undefeated and ranked coming into our place in Week 2. We still prepared just like we normally do and they got the best of us.
“I think the key in this game is going to come down to turnovers. … If we win the turnover battle, I think is going to be the big difference.”
There is a fundamental difference between the Pirates team the Wildcats visited in Week 2 and the one they will host tonight.
“Our confidence has gone up a lot,” Zander said. “I don’t know what it is if it’s a psychological thing with the kids. They almost need to go up against a team first to really get a feel for them. I think seeing them on film is a little different than playing them. Now that we’ve already played them once, I think that helped us a lot.”
In the first game, Zander said he was glad Fall River was going to be able to play a playoff-caliber team like Wild Rose because win or lose, it was going to make the Pirates better as the season went on.
“We wanted to play a playoff team to prepare because more than likely down the road we will see them,” Zander said. “And sure enough it worked out that we picked Wild Rose. … I think we benefited from it better than they did.”
Senior Parker Morton agreed: “We won’t come in there not knowing what to do. We’ll have a sense of what they run. We know what they do on defense since we’ve played them already. We know their offense a little bit.”
Morton acknowledged the Wildcats have a size advantage over the Pirates, but he’s not concerned.
“Size; they’re probably bigger than most of the team they’ve played this year, but I think we’re ready,” Morton said. “We like the challenge. It’s going to be a fun game.”
The Pirates are already in uncharted water, advancing to the state quarterfinals for the first time in school history. Each win breaks new ground.
“I think the ceiling is real high and it’s going to be quite a climb to get to that ceiling,” Firary said. “We got so much potential on the team, but we are better than we were that week that’s for sure.
“I think we’re just blending better. Everybody has figured out what their role is on the team and what they’ve got to do, and the work they need to do. Defense is stronger, more stout and our offense is really rolling, and pounding the ball.”