2001 team surprised even head coach

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 8, 2001

Sports Editor

No one saw this coming.

Not even Goshen’s own head coach Joe Thornton.

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When the Eagles entered two-a-days in August, what the third-year head coach thought he had was a depth-depleted squad of 20 or so players, a majority of which who were inexperienced underclassmen.

10 games later the Eagles are 7-3 with a region championship under their belt and are hosting the first round of the Class 2A state playoffs this Friday night.

Amazing, considering Thornton was just hoping his team would be able to muster a few wins this year and somehow sneak into the playoffs as a No. 3 or No. 4 seed.

"I was just hoping we could pull a winning season and let the chips fall where they may," he said. "Especially with two teams being ranked in our region and then you had Highland Home beating Clay County early. I thought this was going to be tough region and I just wanted to see if we could get in the playoffs. But these kids just kept on finding a way to win."

After beating Clay County, Highland Home collapsed down the stretch and finished fourth in Region 2. Ironically, Red Level, the only team to beat Goshen this season in region play, finished third with last week’s loss to Straughn. In the three-way first place logjam that followed, the Eagles got the nod.

"It’s meant a lot to this program," said Thornton. "It’s nice to see this program grow. The kids that’s been in this program for the last three years understand what we’re doing offensively and they know what we’re doing defensively. That’s been the key to us winning. Plus, we’ve got real tough kids."

Watching senior William Sanders practice with his hand wrapped tight in a boxing glove is an example of that.

Sanders broke his hand in practice earlier this season, missed two games, had surgery and returned to his starting position on both the offensive and defensive line.

"He’s wearing a cast and playing with a metal plate in his hand," said Thornton.

Sanders is just one of five seniors on this team.

"Our seniors have done a great job in leading this year," said Thornton. "William Folmar, William Sanders, Averick (Rogers), Quez (Burden), Derrick Simmons…we only have five seniors, but they’re great kids and they’re good people. They’ll be a success in life when they leave here."

The Eagles started the season with losses to Billingsley and rival Luverne. Then came a region defeat on the road against Red Level.

But Thornton said keeping his team motivated to overcome the early season setbacks wasn’t a problem.

"These kids are winners," he said. "They want to win. They know and trust enough in me to know that I’m going to put them in the right position to win. If they just do what they’re told and do what they’re taught then they’re going to win."

Goshen finished last year with a 10-2 record, making a second round exit on the road against Leroy. Thornton admits that his squad from a year ago was more talented, but this year’s team is "special."

"These are blue collar kids and they’re tough," he said. "They’re going to fight to the bitter end so you better bring your sleeping bag. They may get whipped, but they’re going to give it all they have. Even against Red Level we fought for the entire game and there hasn’t been a game where we haven’t."