Rodney Summers smiled when asked if he thought he’d still be drawing up game plans this deep into the football season.
“That was one of the goals, but not realistically,” the May River coach said earlier this week.
Building a program from scratch isn’t easy. The Sharks couldn’t even get on campus at the start of fall camp, waiting a week before they could move operations from temporary quarters at River Ridge Academy. Yet amid the transition and some serious early lumps, Summers saw opportunity at the end of the schedule.
And with two wins in their past three games, May River’s season of firsts gets an extended run. The Sharks (2-8) embark on their first playoff game Friday, hitting the road for a Class 3A opening-round contest against No. 6 Gilbert.
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“I think the guys are fired up for the experience, to travel and play in front of a big crowd at Gilbert,” Summers said.
It isn’t necessarily a rarity. When Whale Branch opened in 2010, the Warriors also played their way into the postseason. But after an 0-7 start and getting outscored 367-46 in that stretch, it didn’t look all that promising for May River.
“We just had to get some wins,” Summers said. “We felt like Battery Creek and Ridgeland-(Hardeeville) were games where if we could get better and be healthy, those might be games we could pull out.”
That’s how it happened. The Sharks notched the school’s first victory by beating Battery Creek 6-2, then fought back from a 12-point deficit to beat Ridgeland-Hardeeville in their season finale.
Not only was May River in the playoffs, they even finished third in Region 8.
“I think the guys are at the point now where they’re hopefully ready to prove something,” Summers said. “We’ve played a really tough schedule, which I think has helped us at this end.”
One thing that may work in May River’s favor is that Gilbert doesn’t have much recent history of success, either. Before this year’s 9-1 regular season, the Indians had not fashioned a winning record since 2008.
“We’re not expected to win,” Summers acknowledged. “Everybody’s got us penciled in to lose, and I’m sure Gilbert is looking to play Timberland next. So we’ve got to go out there and pull the upset.
“Just be Pitt against Clemson, right?”
If an underdog needed inspiration, Clemson’s fall from the unbeaten ranks last weekend would be a good place to start. Or Iowa’s upset of Michigan. Or Washington getting knocked off by Southern California. All on the same day.
“You look at this past weekend, and it can be done,” Summers said. “Suddenly, (Nos.) 2, 3 and 4 fall out quick, in one day. Nobody would have imagined that. But that’s why you play the game. I think that’s something our kids can build on, from seeing that (last) weekend.”