Calvert's football team arrived at practice Monday with some extra bounce in its collective step. It's amazing what one game can do to a team's psyche -- especially when that game was a 42-0 season-opening victory over Leonardtown last week.
"A win like that makes people take notice," said senior lineman Aaron Cook, whose team started the 2004 season with six losses en route to a 1-9 record. "Last year, when we lost that first game, people said, 'Oh, they're not that good,' and that was how they looked at us all season. Now we've shown them [we're] a little different right away."
No game means more than any other, coaches preach to their players as a means of helping them to maintain their focus. But coaches and players seem to agree that the first game of the season can have a profound impact on a team's long-term success. A victory allows the team to think about going 2-0 with a victory the next week; a loss can lead to second-guessing and doubt.
Over the past two seasons, seven of the 11 Southern Maryland Athletic Conference teams that won their season opener finished with a winning record. Nine of the 12 teams that lost in the first week went on to a losing mark. (Northern twice lost to Westlake in the opener before rebounding to win eight of nine.) Over the past four seasons, 17 of 24 teams that lost their first game finished with a losing record.
"I would have to say, based on my experience, winning the first game sets the tone for the rest of the season," Westlake Coach Dominic Zaccarelli said. If a team loses, it has "to respond and rebound."
Even Westlake, which has had a winning season every year since becoming a full varsity program in 1994, had its worst season -- 6-4 in 2002 -- when it lost its opener, 41-0, to Georgetown Prep.
"I could tell you that the second week was more difficult to prepare for" after losing the opener, said Zaccarelli, whose team went on to lose at Thomas Johnson, 27-12.
Chopticon Coach Tony Lisanti said his team began this week ambitious. The players were looking forward after their 20-6 victory over McDonough. Rather than go over some fundamental breakdowns had they lost, the Braves can take that confidence and go a page or two deeper into their playbook this week against Huntingtown.
"It gives us great confidence, and it makes you hungry for bigger things," Lisanti said. "After a loss, you tend to get back to the basics. When you dig that hole, it takes you a long time to get out of it."