Don’t look now, but the Conneaut Spartans are beginning to believe in themselves.
And a team that has self-confidence — and coach Rocco Dobran’s have more than a bit of it on the strength of putting together Conneaut’s first three-game winning streak since Weeks 5, 6 and 7 of the 2002 season — is a dangerous team.
As the Spartans (4-2) brace for Gilmour Academy (5-1) tonight in their homecoming game at Conneaut Stadium, something has got to give. While Conneaut has its aforementioned three-game winning streak, coach Shawn Dodd’s Lancers are on an even bigger role, having won five games in a row since a 45-28 season-opening defeat at Beachwood.
But having slain the visiting Cleveland Knights last week at Conneaut Stadium, 35-14, Dobran & Co. are feeling pretty darn good about themselves.
“I think it has sunk in,” Dobran, now in his third season at the helm at Conneaut, said. “I think they are handling it very well, for the most part and they believe in each other. They are working even harder in practice now than they were earlier in the year. They know that they need to in order to continue to be successful.
“They understand that winning just doesn’t happen without hard work!”
The victory last week was not without struggle, though. The game was tied at 14-14 into the fourth quarter, before the Spartans scored the final 21 points to bag the victory.
“It was a sloppy game, on our part,” Dobran admitted. “We moved the ball well (345 total yards), but made some crucial mistakes.
“I give the Knights a lot of credit. They came out and played hard and hit hard. I think a few of our guys got rattled early and made some mental mistakes. I was proud of our players for not giving up and finishing the game.”
And the Conneaut players seemed to get stronger as the game moved into its latter stages.
“They did. It was a very good lesson learned for us,” Dobran said. “I think it will help us down the road. We faced some adversity, played sloppy early on, but kept playing.
“They could of gave in and folded, but they didn’t.”
And the 21-point run to end the game proves it.
“Our guys definitely have a lot more confidence right now and know we can score, which was definitely an issue in past years,” Dobran said. “They believe in the system and in each other.”
Gilmour, which has won all six games against Conneaut, including a 29-28 , double-overtime triumph last fall at Conneaut Stadium, received a serious shot in the arm this season after posting a 3-7 mark a year ago.
The Lancers benefited from Bedford Chanel High School closing its doors.
Speedster running back Rodell Golpin and almost-as-fast linebacker Ishmael Hargrove both came to Gilmour from Chanel. Hard-hitting linebacker Parker Berzin is a monster. Quarterback Matt Botek is in his second season running the Gilmour offense.
“They are a very good team and much improved from last year,” Dobran said. “They run a very sound offense and are very productive. They run a pro offset I offense, mixed in with some spread sets. They are very balanced in the run and pass game.
“Defensively, they run a 3-3 stack, with a lot of man coverage, and they bring pressure from everywhere.”
Dobran knows who Gilmour who bring to the table tonight.
“They have a very good quarterback in Botek,” he said. “He throws the ball very well and is also good on his feet.
“They have a pair of very nice running backs who are elusive and run hard.
“Defensively, their linebackers all play tough and blitz from everywhere.”
With both teams riding winning streaks, they have a common opponent this season.
While Conneaut won at Grand Valley in Game 1 this season, 28-13, Gilmour did the same in Week 5, 34-6.
“We need to win the turnover battle — it has been one of the key ingredients to our success thus far (Conneaut is an area-best plus-5 in turnover ratio this season after finishing last in 2012),” Dobran said. “Since, I believe we are pretty evenly matched, I think special teams will be crucial. One big play on special teams could be crucial.
“Finally we just have to fight for four quarters until the final whistle, never giving up, never looking back.
“I think it will be a dogfight.”